The N budget for Europe (excluding the former Soviet Union) indicates that the 3 principal driving forces of the acceleration of the European N cycle are fertilizer production (14 Mt (mill. tonnes) N yr−1), fossil fuel combustion and other industry (3.3 Mt N yr−1) and import of N in various products (7.6 Mt N yr−1).
The various leaks of reactive N species from European food, energy and industrial production systems are estimated and their effects on human health and terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are assessed. Future European environmental policy measures to close the N cycle and to reduce leaks of reactive N can best focus on the three major driving forces, taking into consideration the possible consequences in the N cascade. Critical loads may be useful tools in determining N-emission ceilings and developing integrated policies for regulating N flows such as fertilizer use and imports and N levels.