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The Phoenix Phosphorus Declaration: consensus on scope of P sustainability challenge

February 13, 2011

The Sustainable Phosphorus Summit @ ASU

One of the products of the recently completed international Sustainable Phosphorus Summit was a “consensus statement”, crafted over several days with input from the participants and shaped by a consensus committee made up of a rep from all the summit working groups.  We’re calling this the “Phoenix Phosphorus Declaration”, even though the summit took place (technically) in nearby Tempe.  Phoenix is a good “meme”, as it conjures up a beautiful and powerful bird rising from the ashes.  I suppose what we’re aiming for here is a vision of  an emerging phosphorus economy that uses P more efficiently and recaptures and returns it to agriculture, making a beautiful loop that sustains agricultural productivity while protecting freshwaters and the oceans from excessive P runoff.  The statement is provided in its entirety below.  A final poll of 55 core participants in the summit revealed near-unanimity: 54 respondents agreed with the statement; 1 disagreed.  (As I just told my BIO100 class in the context of global climate change science:  “consensus” means “broad agreement”, not “unanimous”.)   So, what do you think?  What are the next steps?

“The Phoenix Phosphorus Declaration

We have achieved broad agreement on important issues surrounding phosphorus sustainability challenges and opportunities and seek to raise global awareness about them among all those with a stake in the future of food, water, and the biosphere.  All human beings, and indeed all living species, have this stake.

We find:

  • Essential and limited. Phosphorus is essential for all life because it is part of critical molecules like DNA.  It is a limited natural resource needed to sustain the vitality and productivity of all ecosystems, including farms.
  • Imbalanced cycle.  Mining of phosphorus for fertilizer production has massively altered the cycling of phosphorus on Earth. This increased phosphorus use has greatly expanded global capacity for food production but also has led to amplified phosphorus losses from cities, towns, and farms that can lead to degraded water quality, impair freshwater and marine fisheries, and alter natural biodiversity.
  • Food security.  Phosphorus has a key role in global food security, as reliable access to affordable fertilizer can allow farmers to improve yields and increase quality of life, especially in the developing world.
  • Recycle and reuse. Currently, much phosphorus is lost in crop waste, food spoilage, and animal & human waste.  Recycling this phosphorus can reduce geopolitical and other uncertainties surrounding phosphorus fertilizer markets and enhance farmer prosperity.
  • Reduce demand.  Phosphorus natural resources can be extended by improving efficiency of use in agriculture, reducing erosion, limiting losses in mining & industry, and eating lower in the food chain.
  • Interconnected.  Phosphorus stewardship is coupled to other major global sustainability challenges, including those involving energy, water, and other chemical elements.
  • Entrepreneurship. There are great economic opportunities to innovate and create new industries for phosphorus supply diversification and for improved agricultural phosphorus efficiency.  However, the suitability of such measures will differ for different environments, cultures, and contexts.

By closing the human phosphorus cycle and transforming wastes into resources and uncertainty into security, humanity can implement a “new alchemy” in which people become more secure and enjoy greater well-being in a healthy environment.

Participants in the 2011 Sustainable Phosphorus Summit
Tempe, Arizona, USA”

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