Peak Phosphorus: Clarifying the Key Issues of a Vigorous Debate about Long-Term Phosphorus Security
This paper reviews the latest information and perspectives on global phosphorus scarcity. Phosphorus is essential for food production and modern agriculture currently sources phosphorus fertilizers from finite phosphate rock. The 2008 food and phosphate fertilizer price spikes triggered increased concerns regarding the depletion timeline of phosphate rock reserves. While estimates range from 30 to 300 years and are shrouded by lack of publicly available data and substantial uncertainty, there is a general consensus that the quality and accessibility of remaining reserves are decreasing and costs will increase. This paper clarifies common sources of misunderstandings about phosphorus scarcity and identifies areas of consensus. It then asks, despite some persistent uncertainty, what would it take to achieve global phosphorus security? What would a ‘hard-landing’ response look like and how could preferred ‘soft-landing’ responses be achieved?
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