JOURNAL ARTICLE

Global phosphorus scarcity: identifying synergies for a sustainable future

Tina-Simone S Neset, Dana Cordell
Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 2012 January 15, 92 (1): 2-6
21969145
Global food production is dependent on constant inputs of phosphorus. In the current system this phosphorus is not predominantly derived from organic recycled waste, but to a large degree from phosphate-rock based mineral fertilisers. However, phosphate rock is a finite resource that cannot be manufactured. Our dependency therefore needs to be addressed from a sustainability perspective in order to ensure global food supplies for a growing global population. The situation is made more urgent by predictions that, for example, the consumption of resource intensive foods and the demand for biomass energy will increase. The scientific and societal debate has so far been focussed on the exact timing of peak phosphorus and on when the total depletion of the global reserves will occur. Even though the timing of these events is important, all dimensions of phosphorus scarcity need to be addressed in a manner which acknowledges linkages to other sustainable development challenges and which takes into consideration the synergies between different sustainability measures. Many sustainable phosphorus measures have positive impacts on other challenges; for example, shifting global diets to more plant-based foods would not only reduce global phosphorus consumption, but also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce nitrogen fertiliser demand and reduce water consumption.

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