A major new paper, just published in the prestigious science journal Nature, shows that the overuse of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is pushing levels of nitrous oxide - a potent greenhouse gas - far beyond natural limits, fuelling the climate crisis.
Levels of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere are 20% higher than in pre-industrial times, with much of that rise attributed to farming sources. Synthetic fertilisers caused about two-thirds of nitrous oxide emissions from farming.
Here in New Zealand, use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser has climbed 627% since 1990, with around half a million tonnes now used every year. Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is primarily used by the dairy industry to ramp up grass growth.
Greenpeace Executive Director Russel Norman says it’s glaringly obvious that New Zealand’s farming methods must change and we must phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.
"Industrial dairying is New Zealand’s biggest climate polluter, and it harbours a dangerous addiction to synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. If we want to have any hope of tackling the climate crisis, the Government must phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, bring in a price on agriculture’s climate emissions, and shift Aotearoa to regenerative farming," says Norman.
Nitrous oxide’s effect on global heating is 300 times that of carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas.
Ahead of this year’s election, Greenpeace is calling on all political parties to make phasing out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser a bottom line when forming the next government.
Last week, the organisation hung a banner on the central Wellington office of the Fertiliser Association, containing the names of 30,000 New Zealanders calling for a phase-out of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.
Norman says, "Continuing to let agribusiness get away with pumping out climate pollution means condemning our kids and grandkids to a broken climate future, where frequent fires, floods and droughts are the norm.
"We know there are better ways to farm - ways that don’t wreck the safe climate we need to live a healthy life. Aotearoa must shift to regenerative farming that works with nature, not against it.
"Farming can be part of the climate solution, but not if we bury our heads in the sand and refuse to see the damage it’s doing now."