Insights Wales | Research and data gaps in agricultural ammonia (NH3) emissions | Polina Cowley | 13th December 2023 13:00 – 14:00

Polina Cowley | COP28 Follow-up | 30th November – 12th December 2023

NEW TIME 13:00

Insights Wales | Research and data gaps in agricultural ammonia (NH3) emissions | Polina Cowley | 13th December 2023 13:00 – 14:00

About the speaker

Polina Cowley is the Senior Air Quality Targets manager at Welsh Government. Over the past three years, she has been working on ammonia emissions in agriculture. Currently, Polina is leading policy development on setting Air Quality targets in Wales. She has a background in lecturing and is keen on bringing government policy and academia closer together. Polina feels passionate about the change the relevant research could make to the policy dilemmas the Welsh government is facing.

Atmospheric ammonia is a primary pollutant emitted by agricultural activities (93% in Wales) and, to a lesser extent by transport and industry. Most of the ammonia comes from the natural breakdown of manure, dead plants and animals. Agricultural soils in the UK contain little plant-available nitrogen, hence the need for supplementary nitrogen fertilisers and organic manures. Not all the nitrogen is taken up by plants. Large amounts of it (around 50%) are lost to the environment as a pollutant. When NH3 reacts with the atmosphere and is breathed in, it damages the respiratory and cardiovascular systems in people and animals. When NH3 falls on the landscape, it can acidify soils and freshwaters, over-fertilising natural plant communities. Percentage of Welsh land where ammonia concentrations exceed critical levels (way of measuring concentration of ammonia in the air) has grown by 12% in the past 10 years. It means that 69% of Welsh land now doesn’t allow lichens and ancient woodlands to exist healthily. Ammonia emissions are subject to international and national legal obligations and targets to reduce emissions and regional transboundary pollution. Since 2005 NH3 emissions in Wales have grown by 8%. Cattle industry in Wales is responsible for about 70% of agricultural ammonia emissions (Clean Air Plan for Wales (2020)) and about 45% is directly from the dairy sector. 

UK and Wales are facing substantial research gaps on:

  • Occupational impact of high concentrations of ammonia on farmers and their families,
  • Ammonia concentration levels around different types of livestock housing (measuring concentration radius and comparing between species),
  • New technologies collecting evidence on ammonia emissions reductions,
  • Genetic modification of livestock for the reduction of pollution (ammonia and GHG) – what are potential consequencies?
  • Impact of high ammonia concentrations on livestock, effects on animal health.

This week marks the end of the COP 28 conference.

‘We must respond to the facts. We need to reduce emissions by 43% by 2030 and course correct on adaptation, finance, and loss and damage.’

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