Air Pollution

India is the World’s Second Largest emitter of Nitrous Oxide


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Nitrous Oxide pollution

Why in the News?

  • India ranks as the world’s second-largest contributor (after China) to nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas (GHG), accounting for approximately 11% of global man-made emissions in 2020 as per data published in the journal Earth System Science Data.
    • The top five country emitters by volume of anthropogenic N2O emissions in 2020 were China (16.7%), India (10.9%), the United States (5.7%), Brazil (5.3%), and Russia (4.6%).

About Nitrous Oxide

  • Nitrous oxide (N2O), a colourless and odourless gas, is a potent greenhouse gas, 300 times more powerful than CO2. Despite its small atmospheric fraction, it ranks third in concentration after CO2 and methane (CH4). It’s a crucial target for environmental research and efforts to mitigate climate change impacts.

Sources of Emission:

  1. Natural Sources: N2O is naturally produced in processes such as microbial nitrogen cycling in soil and water bodies, volcanic activity, and biomass burning.
  2. Anthropogenic Activities: Human activities significantly contribute to N2O emissions, with the primary sources being:
  • Agricultural practices, including the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers and animal manure.
  • Industrial processes such as combustion of fossil fuels and wastewater treatment.
  • Combustion of biomass and waste.
  • Use of nitrous oxide in medical and dental procedures (as a sedative) and in food packaging.

Impact on Climate Change:

  • Greenhouse Gas: N2O is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential (GWP) much higher than that of carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • Ozone Depletion: In addition to its role in climate change, N2O also contributes to ozone depletion in the stratosphere, further exacerbating environmental concerns.

Environmental and Health Effects:

  • Environmental Pollution: N2O emissions can lead to pollution of soil, water bodies, and air, affecting ecosystems and human health.
  • Health Risks: While N2O is relatively non-toxic at ambient levels, prolonged exposure or high concentrations can pose health risks, including respiratory issues and neurological effects.

Global Nitrous Oxide Emissions

  • Atmospheric Concentration: The concentration of atmospheric N2O reached 336 parts per billion in 2022, about 25% above pre-industrial levels.
  • Next to Carbon Emissions: In comparison, the concentration of carbon dioxide was 417 parts per million in 2022.
  • Persistent Lifespan: Once emitted, N2O stays in the atmosphere for longer than the average human lifespan (117 years), making its climate and ozone impacts long-lived.
  • Contribution to Climate Change: These emissions are responsible for 6.4% of the effective radiative forcing of greenhouse gases and have added about 0.1°C to current global warming.
  • Impact of Nitrogen Fertilizers: N2O emissions from human activities have increased by 40% in the past four decades, with agricultural production using nitrogen fertilizers and animal manure contributing 74% of total anthropogenic N2O emissions in the last decade.

Call for Action and Future Outlook

  • Scientists warn that anthropogenic N2O emissions must decline by at least 20% relative to 2019 levels by 2050 to align with net-zero emission pathways consistent with the Paris Agreement.
  • Nitrogen fertilizers, which are heavily subsidized in India, contribute significantly to N2O emissions. Urgent reforms are needed to promote alternative production systems and mitigate emissions.

India’s Policy Initiatives to Curb Nitrogen Pollution

  • Nutrient-Based Subsidy (NBS) (2010): This policy encourages the adoption of controlled-release fertilizers to enhance nutrient management efficiency.
  • Soil Health Cards (2015): Provided to farmers, these cards offer insights into soil nutrient levels and tailored fertilizer recommendations, promoting balanced nutrient application.
  • Bharat Stage (BS VI) Emission Standards (2016): These stringent regulations for vehicles and industries aim to reduce the emission of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, thereby mitigating air and water pollution.
  • Nano Urea (2021): Marketed by the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO), Nano Urea is a patented fertilizer approved for commercial use, designed to curb excessive and indiscriminate conventional urea use while boosting crop yields.


[2016] Why does the Government of India promote the use of ‘Neem-coated Urea’ in agriculture?

(a) Release of Neem oil in the soil increases nitrogen fixation by the soil microorganisms

(b) Neem coating slows down the rate of dissolution of urea in the soil

(c) Nitrous oxide, which is a greenhouse gas, is not at all released into the atmosphere by crop fields

(d) It is a combination of a weedicide and a fertilizer for particular crops

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