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Nitrogen and Sustainability


Admission requirements

This course is an elective module for the MSc Programme on Governance of Sustainability, and also open to students from the MSc Industrial Ecology


Nitrogen pollution from agriculture, industry, transportation, and energy production is a significant environmental threat, as indicated by the exceedance of Planetary Boundaries. Addressing nitrogen pollution requires a careful balance between economic and ecological considerations. The Netherlands exemplifies the challenges in achieving this balance, particularly highlighted by the nitrogen and sustainability crisis following the Council of State's ruling on the Programmatic Approach to Nitrogen (PAS) in May 2019. This case illustrates the conflicts between economic growth and environmental quality, a relevant issue for many industrialized and agricultural regions worldwide facing similar environmental challenges.

In this course, you will explore the complexity of the nitrogen issue through lectures covering its historical background, legislative and juridical aspects, the roles and interests of various stakeholders, and the influence of politics. Additionally, by utilizing the Nitrogen Footprint model, you will gain insights into how your consumption patterns impact nitrogen emissions into the environment.

Course objectives

After this course you have/are able to:

  • Evaluate the different aspects and drivers in the nitrogen challenge and quantify the impacts of food and lifestyle choices on sustainability

  • Weigh the balance between economic benefits and ecological benefits and give concrete examples

  • Analyze the roles of different stakeholders in nitrogen management and sustainability and its success and failure

  • Use and evaluate Nitrogen Footprint model

  • Develop future policies and possible solutions related to sustainability


You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have sucessfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go the the 'help-page' in MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

By lectures on the background of the nitrogen issue, invited lectures by different relevant stakeholders, feedback sessions, using the Nitrogen Footprint model and NitroGenius (a serious game to solve the Dutch nitrogen crisis), discussion and self-study. The lectures and the debate at the end of the course are compulsory to attend. It will not be possible to follow the lectures online.

Assessment method

Assignment 1:
Student nitrogen low lifestyle paper. Describe a student nitrogen low lifestyle based on the Nitrogen footprint tool in 2 pages. The 2 pager will be assessed and it weights 25% of the final grade. This assignment will be presented during the first lecture.

Assignment 2:
Stakeholder position paper. Students will individually write a scientific stakeholder position paper with clear arguments supported by facts on how they would see the nitrogen crisis to be solved from the perspective of a stakeholder assigned to them. This assignment is graded and accounts for 50% of the final grade.

Assignment 3:
Stakeholder debate and presentation. In groups of 4-5, students will have a discussion/debate on how to solve the Dutch nitrogen crisis together with all stakeholders. Students will present the outcomes of this stakeholder debate in presentations to the rest of the class. The presentations are graded and account for 25% of the final grade.

The student will pass the course if the overall weighted mark for the three assignments is above 5.5. There will be no exams and it is possible to resubmit a paper that was marked insufficient after one month of the grading of the paper.

Reading list


Every student of all years must enroll via MyStudyMap.

In this short video, you will see step by step how to enroll in courses in MyStudyMap. Note that your enrollment is only completed when you submit your course planning in the 'Ready for enrollment' tab by clicking 'submit'.

There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to register for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam. Keep in mind that there are enrollment deadlines, see this page for more information.

Extensive FAQ on MyStudymap can be found here.


Coordinator(s): J.W. Erisman, Joran Lammers, Berent Baris.

Other involved teachers: invited guest lectures by external speakers


This course is an elective module for the MSc Programme on Governance of Sustainability, and also open to students from the MSc Industrial Ecology.

The course focusses on the Dutch nitrogen and sustainability crisis and will be taught in English. However, especially for the second assignment the available literature is mainly in Dutch. This might be a limitation for international students, even though translation options of most of the texts is possible.