Our Phosphorus Future Towards global phosphorus sustainability


Global food security remains threatened as many farmers struggle to afford sufficient phosphorus fertiliser for their crops. Meanwhile, overuse of fertilisers and sewage pollution pump millions of tonnes of phosphorus into lakes and rivers each year, damaging biodiversity and affecting water quality. This report is a comprehensive global analysis of the challenges and possible solutions to the phosphorus crisis. It calls on governments across the world to reduce global pollution of phosphorus and a 50 per cent increase in recycling of the nutrient by the year 2050.

The report has been written by a team of 40 international experts from 17 countries led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) and the University of Edinburgh.

Fertile agricultural soil.
Fertile agricultural soil. Photo: Jonathan Kemper / Unsplash


Key messages

  1. Unsustainable phosphorus use is at the heart of many societal challenges. Unsustainable phosphorus use affects food and water security, freshwater biodiversity and human health.
  2. Increasing demand for food to support a growing global population continues to drive increases in phosphorus inputs to the food–system, as well as losses from land-based sources to freshwater and coastal ecosystems.
  3. These losses cause ecological degradation through the proliferation of harmful algal blooms in fresh waters, contributing to alarmingly high rates of biodiversity decline, economic losses associated with clean-up, and large- scale human health risks from contaminated drinking water supplies.
  4. The pace of species extinction, climate change and the growing number of extreme weather events, combined with population growth and the economic impact of COVID-19, have further strengthened the need to invest in phosphorus sustainability.



Ten key actions across sectors are proposed to improve sustainable phosphorus management globally. Among these actions, priorities and preferred solutions can be expected to differ nationally and between regions:

  1. Increase the use of recycled phosphorus in fertiliser and other chemical industries, as an alternative or supplement to phosphate rock.
  2. Optimise phosphorus inputs to agricultural soils and maximise crop uptake to minimise losses.
  3. Optimise animal diets and the use of supplements to reduce phosphorus excretion.
  4. Increase appropriate application of manures, other phosphorus-rich residues, and recycled fertilisers to soils, to complement appropriate mineral fertiliser use.
  5. Improve global reporting and assessments of phosphorus emissions and their impacts on freshwater and coastal ecosystems.
  6. Implement integrated approaches for freshwater and coastal ecosystem restoration and protection
    at catchment, national and transboundary scales.
  7. Implement national to global strategies to increase recovery and recycling of phosphorus from solid and liquid residue streams.
  8. Ensure sufficient access to affordable phosphorus fertilisers (mineral, organic and recycled) for all farmers.
  9. Promote a global shift to healthy and nutritious diets with low phosphorus footprints.
  10. Reduce the amounts of phosphorus lost as food waste in food processing, retail, and domestic consumption.



W.J. Brownlie, M.A. Sutton, K.V. Heal, D.S. Reay, B.M. Spears (eds.), (2022) Our Phosphorus Future. UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Edinburgh. doi: 10.13140/RG.2.2.17834.08645

Authors of this publication

Genevieve Metson , Tina-Simone Neset ,