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The Our Phosphorus Future Report

May 2022

Publication: UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
Author(s): Will Brownlie, M.A. Sutton, Kate V. Heal, Dave S Reay, Bryan M Spears

Unsustainable phosphorus use is at the heart of many societal challenges.

Unsustainable phosphorus use affects food and water security, freshwater biodiversity and human health. Increasing demand for food to support a growing global population continues to drive increases in phosphorus inputs to the food–system, as well as losses from land-based sources to freshwater and coastal ecosystems.

These losses cause ecological degradation through the proliferation of harmful algal blooms in fresh waters, contributing to alarmingly high rates of biodiversity decline, economic losses associated with clean-up, and large-scale human health risks from contaminated drinking water supplies.

The pace of species extinction, climate change and the growing number of extreme weather events, combined with population growth and the economic impact of COVID-19, have further strengthened the need to invest in phosphorus sustainability.

If the world is to meet climate change, biodiversity, and food security targets, and avoid building costs of predicted phosphorus impacts, positive action on phosphorus management is essential.

The present report calls for the establishment of an intergovernmental coordination mechanism to catalyse integrated action on phosphorus sustainability.

This should be supported by an international framework to consolidate the collective knowledge, quantify of the economic and societal benefits of improvements in phosphorus management and establish targets for time-bound improvements.

The report identifies a clear opportunity to raise awareness on the need for sustainable phosphorus management through the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) and calls for a UNEA resolution on sustainable phosphorus management or equivalent global commitment to act.

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