Water, food and energy nexus challenges

Water, food and energy nexus challenges

Comprehensive yet concise report outlining the key challenges and projected demands in the global agricultural sector, from an energy-water-food nexus perspective.

Based on several existing data-sets, this paper by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development seeks to provide a comprehensive yet concise overview of the main challenges associated with increasing demand for agricultural products. The authors use the concept of a water-energy-food nexus, viewing agriculture in a multi-sectoral and integrated fashion that incorporates land management, water use, demand projections, energy use, markets, climate change impacts, and greenhouse gas emissions . The paper assumes a business-as-usual scenario in formulating projected supply and demand trends and climate change impacts, indicating the need for a proposed “Green New Deal” that tackles multiple areas simultaneously to tap into different cost and benefit streams and enhance co-optimisation.

The report summarises the projections and challenges, including that:

  • Food demand is expected to increase by 60 per cent by 2050 compared to 2005-2007 levels, due to population growth (70 per cent) and increased per capita calorie intake (30 per cent). Global meat demand is expected to increase by 60 per cent by 2030.
  • Demand for roundwood, wood panels, and paper are expected to rise between 1 per cent and 4.1 per cent annually for the next two decades, while demand for biofuel is expected to increase three-fold by 2050.
  • Around 90 per cent of the required increase of food production has to come from intensification. While globally arable land is expected to increase in by 4.5 per cent, in developed countries it is expected to decrease by 40 million hectares.
  • Regarding impacts on water, it is expected that by 2050, irrigated agriculture covering 16 per cent of cultivated land will be responsible for 44 per cent of all crop production. However, greater competition for water from other sectors could reduce the water available for agriculture by 18 per cent.
  • Climate change impacts on agriculture include higher temperatures leading to more variable annual production levels, decreasing yields and nutritional value of crops, and increased costs and fertiliser use.
  • Global energy demand is projected to increase by 80% by 2050. The food sector currently accounts for 30 per cent of global energy use, and agricultural commodity prices are highly sensitive to energy prices.
  • Energy and the food system, including land-use change, account for almost half of global greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, emissions will increase by 50% between 2012 and 2050.
  • Increased salinity of soil, the build-up of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds through agricultural water pollution, and drinking water contaminated with high nitrate concentrations all pose significant challenges.
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