Nitrogen Balance Sheet

Nitrogen is a basic building block of life. It is present everywhere across the economy and environment, a constituent of a wide range of materials and processes and is especially important in relation to growing and producing food, waste management and activities involving fuel combustion.

This means that effective and efficient use of nitrogen is an important consideration across many sectors of the economy, environment and well-being. Losses of nitrogen to the environment, via air pollutants and greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and leaching and run-off into water can have harmful effects on, for example, climate change, biodiversity, air quality and water quality.

About Nitrogen Balance Sheets

The Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 requires the establishment of a national Nitrogen Balance Sheet for Scotland, via a process of regulations by March 2022. This will provide a way to track how efficiently nitrogen is being used and help identify further opportunities to improve this.

In particular, the Scottish Nitrogen Balance Sheet (SNBS) will provide a method for determining a baseline figure for 'Nitrogen Use Efficiency' across Scotland as a whole. Nitrogen use efficiency means the proportion of nitrogen used for its intended purpose (e.g. growing food) vs. losses to the environment. Once established, the SNBS will be reviewed and updated at regular intervals, helping us keep track of progress on improving nitrogen use efficiency.

The SNBS will help support progress to Scotland’s national climate change targets. This is because one form of nitrogen - nitrous oxide, N2O - is an important greenhouse gas. Improving nitrogen use efficiency will, therefore, help with tackling climate change. However, the fact that nitrogen is basically everywhere means that the SNBS will also have the potential to support a range of wider policy applications - such as air quality strategies and further promoting efficiency in food production. Establishing the SNBS will be an important step in developing the national evidence base around these matters, by bringing together data from a range of sources and providing baseline figures for nitrogen use efficiency.

Development of the Scottish Nitrogen Balance Sheet

Our current SNBS project is building from a previous technical study by the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in 2019. This study made a first attempt at a national Nitrogen Balance Sheet for Scotland. In particular, the current project aims is to bring all major sectors of Scotland’s economy and environment into the scope of the balance sheet.

Following an initial phase of engagement with stakeholder organisations in October 2020, we consulted from December 2020 to January 2021 on a set of proposals for key aspects of the SNBS, both in terms of its technical parameters and how its outputs can best be communicated and used to inform policy. The consultation analysis report and an initial response were published via our consultation hub in March 2021. We are now working towards laying regulations in the Scottish Parliament to formally establish the SNBS in advance of the statutory deadline of March 2022.