Water saving potentials and possible trade-offs for future food and energy supply

Damerau K, Patt T, & van Vliet OPR (2016). Water saving potentials and possible trade-offs for future food and energy supply. Global Environmental Change 39: 15-25. DOI:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2016.03.014.

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The sufficient supply of food and energy requires large amounts of fresh water. Mainly required for irrigation, but also processing and cooling purposes, water is one of the essential resources in both sectors. Rising global population numbers and economic development could likely cause an increase in natural resource demand over the coming decades, while at the same time climate change might lead to lower overall water availability. The result could be an increased competition for water resources mainly in water-stressed regions of the world in the future. In this study we explore a set of possible changes in consumption patterns in the agricultural and energy sector that could be primarily motivated by other goals than water conservation measures—for example personal health and climate change mitigation targets, and estimate the indirect effect such trends would have on global water requirements until 2050. Looking at five world regions, we investigated three possible changes regarding future food preferences, and two possible changes in future resource preferences for electricity and transport fuels. We find that while an increase in food supply as a result of higher protein demand would lead to an increase in water demand as well, this trend could be counteracted by other potential dietary shifts such as a reduction in grains and sugars. In the energy sector we find that an increasing water demand can be limited through specific resource and technology choices, while a significant growth of first-generation biofuels would lead to a drastic rise in water demand, potentially exceeding the water requirements for food supply. Looking at the two sectors together, we conclude that an overall increase in water demand for both food and energy is not inevitable and that changes in food and energy preferences could indeed lead to an alleviation of water resource use despite rising population numbers.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Water-energy-food nexus; Biofuels; Natural resource management
Research Programs: Risk & Resilience (RISK)
Risk, Policy and Vulnerability (RPV)
Depositing User: Luke Kirwan
Date Deposited: 25 Apr 2016 07:08
Last Modified: 24 Oct 2016 08:17
URI: http://pure.iiasa.ac.at/12902

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