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Towards INMS Questions & Answers

What is ‘Towards INMS?’

Towards INMS is a global ‘targeted research project’ with catalytic core funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) (the environment funding mechanism of the United Nations System).  The project concept (Project Initiation Form, c. 40 pages) is approved, and we are now running the Project Preparation Grant (PPG).  By mid Summer 2015 we must submit comprehensive documentation to allow the full project to be approved, which would be run for 4 years (2016 to 2019).


Who is ‘Towards INMS’?

GEF projects are structured with an Implementation Agency, IA (a United Nations body, representing the customer) and an Execution Agency, EA (the organization coordinating the work).  For Towards INMS, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is the Implementing Agency, while the UK Natural Environment Research Council (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) is the Executing Agency acting on behalf of the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI).   INI is a global science network that addresses the challenges of too much and two little nitrogen, which is jointly established under the International Geosphere Biosphere Program (IGBP) and the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE).


What does ‘Towards INMS’ mean?

INI has long recognized that the global nitrogen challenge is multi dimensional. Nitrogen supply and use is critical for global food, feed and (bio) energy production, while at the same time losses of nitrogen from agriculture, industry and transport activities contribute to many pollution problems. This can be summarized by the WAGES acronym introduced by the European Nitrogen Assessment (2011): Water quality, Air quality, Greenhouse gases, Ecosystems and biodiversity and Soil quality.

Yet, all of these issues have not traditionally been linked in international policy development, with the result that the co-benefits of good nitrogen management have not been fully quantified or appreciated.   There is therefore a need to develop a more coordinated science support system that can provide clear evidence to inform future international nitrogen policy development.   INMS stands for the International Nitrogen Management System, the establishment of which would be an eventual goal.  The name of the GEF project ‘Towards INMS’ refers to the fact that the project works towards this goal.


Is Towards INMS about science or policy?

Towards INMS is about developing science evidence streams that can support policy development. Towards INMS is therefore not a policy process. Examples of international policy processes where nitrogen is important include the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution  (CLRTAP) and the Global Programme of Action for the protection of the marine environment from land-based activities (GPA). Towards INMS therefore has multiple policy audiences, and one of the challenges is to show how better nitrogen management can deliver co-benefits to each of them. By clarifying and quantifying these co-benefits, INMS holds the prospect to better understand the interactions that can help overcome barriers to change.


Which would be the main policy process to which INMS reports?

This is an open question on process, and work under development, as highlighted by the report Our Nutrient World (2013).  The starting point is that INMS should inform and engage with each of the intergovernmental processes relevant for nitrogen and other international activities.  Recent discussions by country representatives to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), highlighted the possibility to develop a Policy Arena for Nitrogen, where the different processes come together to discuss the potential benefits of a developing a joined up approach for nitrogen. As the IA, UNEP potentially also has a key role to play, for example through the newly strengthened United Nations Environment Assembly.


How should INMS look as a science process to support policy development?

There are many ways in which science evidence support for policy has been provided in the past. A well known example is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  This has developed a lot of traction, though a disadvantage has been the separation between IPCC and UNFCCC, meaning that the scientists mainly provide assessment evidence, but with less direct interface between the science community and policy development. An example with a closer interaction is CLRTAP, where the science evidence development is closely embedded into the parent convention, allowing policy makers to ask questions of the science community, and vice versa, allowing a stronger interaction.  We could list other examples.  For the moment, the thinking of INMS has been strongly informed by the positive experiences of working with the CLRTAP framework.  As the Towards INMS process develops, and we engage with different policy processes, we need to learn the best practices from each of them as we develop and characterise a way of working for INMS.


In what way is Towards INMS a global process?

Many of the challenges for better management of the nitrogen cycle operate at a global scale. These range from impacts on the global climate system through altered greenhouse gas emissions to understanding the barriers to change through global trade systems, for example circumstances that may make it difficult for farmers to transfer any costs of nitrogen mitigation actions to consumers. There is also a strong coupling between regional scale issues and hemispheric to global scales. An example here is transboundary air pollution. Embedded within this, are the regional and local nitrogen challenges from inequalities in the availability of nitrogen resources for agriculture to impacts on biodiversity through atmospheric nitrogen deposition or on freshwater and coastal water quality and biodiversity.

With this in mind, INMS is structured as a global project where the starting point is quantification of the main nitrogen sources and flows spatially across the world. This has been done in the past for single issues related to nitrogen. The global challenge for Towards INMS is to now start linking up the different drivers and forms of the nitrogen cycle, to develop the more comprehensive picture.