The fundamental focus of all my work is the balance between feeding 10 billion people by 2050 and the myriad environmental threats that could be exacerbated by doing so. More specifically, my research uses a multi-method approach to study the potential economic and environmental impacts of new policy options to address nitrogen pollution, and backcasting and trade-off analysis to help stakeholders make more informed decisions that accelerate the transition to sustainable agricultural systems.

Current research projects

New policy options for nitrogen management

Nitrogen pollution is one of the most important environmental issues facing humanity, driven largely by the inefficient use of fertilizer and manure. However, most policies to address it are ineffective given the difficulty of monitoring and enforcing policies at the farm-level, a lack of awareness of the nitrogen cycle’s unique chemistry, and the role nitrogen has as an essential agricultural input. Consequently, a core strand of my research explores new policy options for addressing this critical issue. Several projects have focused on making nitrogen pollution a more central pillar of national and international climate policy, which includes a more holistic approach to nutrient management that accounts for both nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. In other work my collaborators and I investigate actors across the agricultural supply chain for policy options that go beyond the farm-gate to address agricultural nitrogen pollution, including how to apply the approach taken by the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards (successful in improving the fuel efficiency and reducing the emissions of the U.S. automobile industry) to the fertilizer industry.

nitrogen Futures

I was recently appointed to the Project Management Board of the International Nitrogen Management System (INMS) in 2016, a $6 million project funded by UN Environment to establish a science-policy platform for nitrogen, with the ultimate goal of producing the first global nitrogen assessment in 2021. In this role I lead the development of new nitrogen scenarios, which aims to produce a range of possible nitrogen futures out to 2100 that explore the trade-offs between nitrogen’s essential uses and negative impacts. As part of this work I am also leading the first-ever global review of existing nitrogen policies using the OECD and ECOLEX policy databases in combination with a new policy survey of national governments. The goal is to identify the gaps common across different nitrogen policies, with a view towards ultimately proposing a more coherent approach.

transitioning to sustainable agriculture

How to transition to more sustainable agricultural systems in light of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is one of the central challenges of the next decade. I am currently involved in the development of the Sustainable Agricultural Matrix – the first integrated decision-support tool to help policymakers understand the implications of different agricultural management and policy choices in the context of the SDGs. We are in the process of developing a multi-objective optimization model using a combination of crop, nutrient, nutrition, and economic datasets to capture the range of indicators that define agricultural outcomes (e.g. Zhang 2015). The final research product will be a publicly available tool to comprehensively evaluate agricultural trade-offs and synergies across different national contexts by analyzing the impacts of dietary changes, shifting crop mixes, and international trade networks on agricultural sustainability.


Kanter D. and Searchinger T. 2018. A technology-forcing approach to reduce nitrogen pollution. Nature Sustainability.

 Kanter D. 2018. Nitrogen pollution: a key building block for addressing climate change. Climatic Change.

Kanter D., Wentz J., Galloway J., Moomaw W.R., Winiwarter, W. 2017. Managing a forgotten greenhouse gas: An interdisciplinary analysis. Environmental Science & Policy. 67:44-51  

Kanter D., Musumba M., Palm C., Andelman S., Antle J., Balvanera P., Havlik P., Thorne P., Thornton P., Tittonnell P. 2016. Evaluating agricultural trade-offs in the age of sustainable development. Agricultural Systems,

 Kanter D., Schwoob M., Baethgen W., Dobermann A. et al. 2016. Translating the Sustainable Development Goals into action: A participatory backcasting approach for developing national agricultural transformation pathways. Global Food Security, 10:71-79

 Kanter D., Zhang X., Shevliakova E., Malyshev S., Mauzerall D.L. 2016. The importance of climate change and nitrogen use efficiency for future nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture. Environmental Research Letters, 11 (2016) 094003

 Haden V.R., Liptzin D., Rosenstock T.S., Vanderslice J., Brodt S., Yeo B.L., Dahlgren R., Scow K., Riddell J., Feenstra G., Oliver A., Thomas K., Kanter D., and Tomich T.P. 2016. Chapter 5: Ecosystem Services and Human Well-Being. In Tomich T.P. et al. (eds.) California Nitrogen Assessment. University of California Press

 Kanter D., Zhang X., Mauzerall D.L. 2015. Reducing agricultural nitrogen pollution while decreasing farmers’ costs and increasing fertilizer industry profits. Journal of Environmental Quality, 44(2):325-335

 Zhang X., Mauzerall. D.L., Davidson E., Kanter D., Cai R. 2015. The economic and environmental consequences of implementing nitrogen-efficient technologies and management practices in agriculture. Journal of Environmental Quality, 44(2):312-324

 Davidson E. and Kanter D. 2014. Inventories and scenarios of nitrous oxide emissions. Environmental Research Letters, 9:105012

Davidson E., Kanter D., Suddick E.C., Syntharalingham P. 2013. Chapter 3: N2O: Sources, Inventories, Projections, in Alcamo J. et al. Drawing down N2O emissions to protect climate and the ozone layer, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi, Kenya.

Sutton M.A., Skiba U.M., Davidson E., Kanter D. 2013. Chapter 8: Drawing Down N2O Emissions: Scenarios, Policies and the Green Economy, in Alcamo J. et al. Drawing down N2O emissions to protect climate and the ozone layer, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi, Kenya.

 Kanter D., Mauzerall D.L., Ravishankara A.R., Daniel J.S., Portmann R.W., Grabiel P., Moomaw W., Galloway J.N. 2013. A post-Kyoto partner: Considering the stratospheric ozone regime as a tool to manage nitrous oxide. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 110(12):4451-4457

Robertson G.P., Bruulsema T.W., Gehl R.J., Kanter D, Mauzerall D.L., Rotz C.A., Williams C.O. 2013. Nitrogen-climate interactions in US agriculture. Biogeochemistry, 114:41-70

Robertson G.P., Bruulsema T.W., Gehl R.J., Kanter D, Mauzerall D.L., Rotz C.A., Williams C.O. 2012.Climate-Nitrogen Interactions in Agriculture. In: Suddick, E.C., Davidson, E.A.(eds.) The Role of Nitrogen in Climate Change and the Impacts of Nitrogen-Climate Interactions on Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystems, Agriculture, and Human Health in the United States. A Technical Report Submitted to the US National Climate Assessment. North American Nitrogen Center of the International Nitrogen Initiative (NANC-INI), Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, MA, USA.

Miller D.J., Sun K., Zondlo M.A., Kanter D, Dubovik O., Welton E.J., Winkler D., Ginoux P. 2011. Assessing boreal forest fire smoke aerosol impacts on U.S. air quality: a case study using multiple datasets. Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres, 116:D22209

Mate J., Davies K., Kanter D. 2009. The Risks of Other Greenhouse Gases. Chapter in State of the World 2009. Worldwatch Institute, Washington D.C., USA.