EGU23-12024, updated on 10 Jan 2024
EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Towards realizing the EU 2050 Zero Pollution Vision for Nitrogen Export

Rohini Kumar1, Tam V. Nguyen1, Fanny J. Sarrazin1, Pia Ebeling1, Christian Schmidt1, Arthur Beusen2,3, Lex Bouwman2,3, Jan H. Fleckenstein1,4, Sabine Attinger1,5, and Andreas Musolff1
Rohini Kumar et al.
  • 1Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Leipzig, Germany (
  • 2PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, GH The Hague, The Netherlands
  • 3Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • 4University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany
  • 5University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany

The European Union has adopted an ambitious long-term, zero pollution vision for 2050  aiming for EU’s  “air, water and soil pollution to be reduced to levels no longer considered harmful to health and natural ecosystems …” [1]. However, the extent to which such a goal can be realistically realized for legacy contaminants like nitrogen (N) is not yet properly understood. Herein, we provide a comprehensive assessment of nitrogen retention and export across the European landscapes to receiving waterbodies using a suite of climate, hydrology, and future socioeconomic scenarios. We establish a chain of hydroclimate and nitrogen export scenarios, comprising climate simulations from global climate models (CMIP) under different emission pathways (RCPs) and shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs) to force a coupled hydrology and water quality model (mHM-N [2]) that characterizes the N retention and export dynamics over the period 1971-2070. SSPs consider balancing options for agricultural land management and technical innovations, taking into account future food, economic growth, and environmental demands; and provide N input trajectories from both diffuse (agricultural) and point (wastewater) sources. Our analysis shows a higher degree of improvement with substantially lower N levels in all European surface water bodies by the 2050s, compared to current levels (2010s). Eastern European rivers may benefit from technological improvements by reducing point source inputs, while in the Western European region, lower N levels can be noticed due to a reduction in diffuse N inputs. Despite these improvements, there are areas of concern where some European water bodies may still suffer from N levels exceeding critical thresholds (e.g., 2-3 mg N/l) in 2050. This may be related to continued N exports that slowly deplete legacy storages (e.g., soil and groundwater). Overall, this requires more proactive measures, particularly aiming at reducing N inputs while harvesting/utilizing and attenuating the built-up storage, to achieve the zero-pollution goal.




How to cite: Kumar, R., V. Nguyen, T., J. Sarrazin, F., Ebeling, P., Schmidt, C., Beusen, A., Bouwman, L., H. Fleckenstein, J., Attinger, S., and Musolff, A.: Towards realizing the EU 2050 Zero Pollution Vision for Nitrogen Export, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 23–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-12024,, 2023.