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Research and innovation

Policy on nitrogen and phosphorus pollution

Research and innovation policy initiatives on nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, Horizon Europe missions and partnerships and synergies with other policies

Why does this pollution matter

Excessive nitrogen and phosphorus in the environment causes serious damage. This includes the eutrophication of rivers and lakes - excessive growth of algae -, contamination of groundwater, acidification of soils, biodiversity loss, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn lead to risks for human and planetary health.

Pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus is already well exceeding safe planetary boundaries, representing a severe threat to life on Earth as well as to the climate.

Where the pollution comes from

  • agriculture (manure management, mineral fertiliser application)
  • combustion from transport and industry
  • water supply and waste water management
  • aquaculture
  • industrial sectors such as pulp and paper
  • food and drink processing
  • mineral fertiliser extraction and production
  • solid waste management
  • bioenergy generation

Research and innovation

Research and innovation is needed to establish how the EU can move to living within safe planetary boundaries for nitrogen and phosphorus, and identify ways to get there.

Measures and solutions to reach this safe operating space could include 

  • integrated land/marine bioeconomies
  • limited livestock stocking density
  • integrated agricultural practices including agro-ecology
  • nature-based solutions (e.g. in waste water treatments, soil remediation)
  • integrated industrial innovation towards circularity, industrial symbiosis
  • innovative resources use to improve efficiency and reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from industrial sectors and other environmental impacts

Horizon Europe and related policies

Research and innovation in this area will contribute to the European Green Deal by developing and demonstrating systemic solutions to reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Europe. 

Under the next research and innovation framework programme, Horizon Europe, starting in 2021, a proposed Mission on soil will develop solutions for restoring soil health and soil functions. A proposed European Partnership for a circular bio-based Europe will develop and deploy techniques to recover and recycle nitrogen and phosphorus from residues and waste.

Research and innovation investments will align with strategic priorities to deliver on

  • Zero pollution action plan
  • upcoming Integrated Nutrient Management Action Plan
  • Circular economy action plan
  • Biodiversity strategy for 2030


Publication cover
Report7 September 2023
Systemic approach preventing pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus

Report presenting the results of the analysis of a portfolio of Horizon 2020 projects focusing on pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus.