Es especialmente sintomático que el último informe de Davos en el World Forum, hable como una de los mayores riesgos en los próximos diez años de conceptos como el cambio climático o la escasez de agua u otros fenómenos naturales. Entre riesgos como la crisis financiera, la corrupción, la economía sumergida y otros se nos habla explícitamente sobre las previsiones no optimistas sobre el problema del agua.
Tras analizar las interrelaciones que se dan entre la energía, los alimentos y el agua, ya que todo necesita de todo, comenta que los países emergentes al aumentar su población y por la mejora del nivel de vida puede conllevar problemas con el agua junto al propio cambio climático. Dicha ausencia de agua puede llevar consigo incluso amenazas entre naciones o dentro de un propio territorio. Se hace necesario concienciar a la población sobre los futuros problemas de agua, evitando situaciones cortoplacistas tanto en consumidores como en gobiernos. Comentan que producir carne es muy superior a producir grano, siendo necesario para 1 kg de carne 20.000 litros de agua frente a 1.200. Se habla de un incremento de la población en 10 años desde 6830 hasta 7,700 millones de habitantes. Además se espera que en el 2030 aumente un 50 % el consumo de alimentos y entre un 30 y un 40 el de agua y energía. En estos momentos se necesitan construir un 77 % de las infraestructuras necesarias para conseguir satisfacer la demanda y se advierte que el noroeste chino sufrirá pérdidas por sequías en los próximos 20 años. Ya se han empezado a notar efectos del cambio climático en el Norte de Africa y Australia.El fórum está investigando la interrelación entre alimentación, energía y agua. La paredoja se da que la Agencia Internacional de la Energía vaticina en 2030 el uso de un 5 % en biocombustibles en el transporte. Resulta que con esos datos, se necesitan 3,2 millones de barriles al día y que para producirlos se necesita consumir entre el 20 y el 100 % del agua destinada a alimentación, cosa que es imposible. Otro ejemplo es el petróleo procedentes de arenas petrolíferas.
Se indica que pocos gobiernos están teniendo un comportamiento que favorezca un crecimiento sostenible, una reducción de emisiones y simultáneamente programas de racionalización de agua. Lo primero que habría que integrar serían esas políticas de forma incluso supradepartamental. Un ejemplo de cómo se está desarrollando estas políticas es la comisión que investiga las consecuencias de la presa del Mekong para analizar consecuencias en todos los aspectos. Se habla también del precio político de los recursos que se dan en muchos países y que este tema tarde o temprano se tendrá que abordar. Aunque tenga efectos sobre la demanda final de los productos, se ha de considerar poner el precio real a la energía, la alimentación y el agua. Dicho ajuste a los precios de mercado se ha de realizar de forma paulatina para evitar efectos desfavorables en los más pobres. En regiones como el Medio Oriente y el Norte de África el ajuste de precios puede conllevar inversiones en infraestructuras. Por supuesto cualquier inversión en estas áreas tiene que conducir a la calidad de las aguas y que ese agua sea saludable.
Water security, food security and energy security are chronic impediments to economic growth and social stability. Figure 8 shows their interrelatedness food production requires water and energy; water extraction and distribution requires energy; and energy production requires water. Food prices are also highly sensitive to the cost of energy inputs through fertilizers, irrigation, transport and processing Economic growth and population growth are common drivers for all three risks, especially as improving living conditions in emerging economies results in more resource-intensive consumption patterns Environmental pressures also drive resource insecurity – from climate shifts to extreme weather events that alter rainfall and affect crop production. Governance failures in terms of managing shared resources – such as trans-boundary water and energy sources and food trade agreements – create tensions that can lead to conflict, as seen recently in Yemen.
Economic disparity also often exacerbates this Nexus of risks as governments and consumers seek shortterm, unsustainable solutions to economic hardship such as growing high-value, water-intensive export crops in water-deprived regions. It is at the local level that most opportunities can be found for improving resource efficiency and managing trade-offs between energy, water and food production. However, at the global and regional levels there are few initiatives to raise awareness, share leading practices and motivate consumers in an integrated approach. Table 4 shows a non-exhaustive list of some of the direct and indirect impacts stemming from this nexus. Agriculture is the dominant water user, consuming more than 70% of total global water demand. Industrially produced meat is especially waterintensive, requiring up to 20,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram, compared to approximately 1,200 litres to produce a kilogram of grain. Both population growth and increasing meat consumption in emerging economies will therefore have a tremendous impact on resource needs. As Figure 9 shows, over the next 10 years, the World population is expected to rise from the current 6.83 billion to approximately 7.7 billion, with most of the growth in emerging economies. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projects a 50% increase in demand for food by 2030, and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRI) expects a 30% increase in demand for water, with other estimates rising to over 40%. The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that the world economy will demand at least 40% more energy by 2030; producing this energy will draw heavily on freshwater resources. For such increased demand for water, food and energy to be realized, significant and perhaps radical changes in water use will be required as well as new sources for food and energy production exploited. For food production, supply-related challenges may limit the ability of farmers to meet growth in demand. Already, major grain-producing areas – in China, India and the United States, for example – depend on unsustainable mining of groundwater. In some regions, such as North Africa and Australia, climate-related changes of precipitation have already critically reduced the levels of freshwater supply. In northeast China, one of the country’s main grain-producing regions, climate change could increase drought losses by over 50% by 2030 Climate change is likely to be exacerbated by meeting the growing demand for energy. Over 75% of the global increase in energy use from 2007-2030 is expected to be met through fossil fuels, especially coal, and an estimated 77% of the power stations required to meet demand are yet to be built Recognizing trade-offs in the water-food-energy Nexus. Tough trade-offs will increasingly be needed between energy, food and water in terms of resource allocation and planning. The key challenge is to incorporate the complex interconnections of this nexus of risks into response strategies that are integrated and take into account the many relevant stakeholders. The Forum is working on such an approach with its innovative initiative WRG Phase 2, run in partnership with the Water Resources Group (See page 33: The Forum’s Water Initiative: Focusing on the Water-Food-Energy Nexus). Unintended consequences abound. For example, because of policy incentives designed to reduce vehicle emissions, by 2030 the IEA predicts that at least 5% of global road transport will be powered by biofuel – over 3.2 million barrels per day. However, producing those fuels could consume between 20-100% of the total quantity of water now used worldwide for agriculture. This is clearly an unsustainable trade-off. Another example is shale gas extraction, which promises access to new reserves of fossil fuels, but is highly water-intensive and may pose a risk to water quality. Few governments are developing energy policy with a goal of not only enabling economic growth and reducing carbon emissions, but also ensuring water efficiency; the nature of this nexus, however, means pursuing multiple goals will become a necessity. Tradeoffs between the three resources, as well as tradeoffs between users in the form of resource rationing, will become an increasingly important issue, as will managing these trade-offs through a combination of market mechanisms and regulation. However, beware of false dichotomies. It is not necessary to trade biodiversity for economic growth, for example. Such trade-offs exist primarily when policy-makers and resource-users act in a shortterm, reactive and hurried fashion. To avoid these unnecessary trade-offs and tackle the necessary ones, the Forum has identified a number of response strategies for further exploration. Integrated and multistakeholder resource planning. The challenges associated with managing tradeoffs of food, energy and water resources rest with governments. Experts argue that meeting those challenges is undermined by the existence of separate administrative structures and policies for agriculture, water, energy and urban planning. The development of high-level commissions that cut across government departments, stakeholders and country representatives could improve public-sector-led governance, planning and information flows.
A recent example of a regionally-focused, integrated approach is the Mekong River Commission’s Strategic Environmental Assessment. This document examines the cumulative risks and opportunities of hydropower projects in five separate countries. It explicitly considers the links between energy generation, water availability and food production, including second-and third-order impacts to ecosystems, social systems and economic development over a 15 year perspective.
The Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative, which is now being piloted through national-level partnerships in Tanzania and Vietnam, has developed a framework for multi-stakeholder collaboration to accelerate sustainable agricultural growth. In this model, the government’s national agriculture strategy provides the framework for focusing expertise and investments from diverse stakeholders to acelérate sustainable agricultural growth, thus multiplying efforts and reducing risk for all involved.
Resource pricing has a large role to play in managing demand for food, water and energy. Prices are kept artificially low by government subsidies or other regulation in many countries, thereby increasing demand. However, even if they were allowed to rise through market mechanisms, prices would not account for many of the negative externalities created by water, food and energy consumption. Both the cost of local impacts (such as the long-run social and environmental costs of resource exploitation) and global impacts (such as contribution to climate change through carbon emissions) should ideally be included in resource pricing. Without accurate pricing to reflect the full cost of resource use, it is likely that unsustainable decisions regarding resource use will continue. However raising the price of water has significant and negative social impacts in many regions. To account for these, market mechanisms must be managed progressively so as not to endanger social stability by disadvantaging poor consumers; the human cost of higher resource prices should be recognized by stakeholders and solved with careful planning. Further, increased resource prices will inevitably impact economic growth, as higher prices are passed on to consumers. Experts suggest that despite such challenges, efforts to create properlycosted systems are critical to the future sustainability of global prosperity, as the cost of severe shortages because of irreparable damage to water and food sources would far exceed the costs incurred through proactive resource management. In regions such as the Middle East and North Africa, market prices may also attract private investment in infrastructure that can better preserve the scarce resources currently being depleted. Experts argued that policies which aim to manage food, energy or water resources are in many cases welldesigned; many of the barriers to sustainable resource use relate to implementation. As an example, lack of sanitary facilities impacts water security through the contamination of local water sources. However it may not be enough simply to build sanitation facilities without also addressing social norms on open defecation; to ensure that such facilities are used requires implementing cultural shifts as well infrastructure investment. Overcoming such barriers means engaging, empowering and incentivizing local actors at the community level to ensure that those actually using core resources are also the guardians of their sustainable consumption.
Technological and financial innovation for managing the Nexus.
Further research and investment in transformative technologies and risk management tools that address the nexus as a whole are needed. Ensuring that such tools are locally appropriate and broadly adopted is key to their success. Many efficiency improvements require new operational management models and access to information. Innovations such as synthetic proteína manufacturing, drip irrigation, and hybridization of crops to make them salt resistant could potentially maintain food security while simultaneously achieving water and energy efficiency, but require investment for both development and implementation
Innovative financial risk management initiatives also look promising, such as the development of “safety net” payments for Vietnamese rice farmers if yields fall below expected levels due to pests, diseases or weather events such as droughts, floods and typhoons. In the past, damages to agriculture due to weather or pests have resulted in losses of up to 5% of Vietnamese GDP; thanks to multi-stakeholder collaboration between agricultural banks, insurers and the national government, this scheme addresses multiple risks to help ensure food security on a national level, protecting the livelihoods of farmers and thus increasing the overall resilience of food production in the country. However, most of these instruments remain focused on a particular target such as yield or weather risk, and as such do not address regional risk management across sectors, or the ultimate risk of food supply. The interconnected nature of the challenge suggests that further work in integrating technical and financial solutions is needed.