Trends on energy, food and water nexus
I have for the last twenty years worked on sustainability at the global level and the last four years on the Rio+20 Conference - which was a success - unlike what the media may have said.
The conference focused on four themes:
- review of previous commitments
- emerging issues
On the review of previous commitments my previous organization Stakeholder Forum did an assessment for the UN and found a lot had not been implemented and I could go into why but that is not the theme of today's talk.
On the institutional framework for sustainable development it is clear that the institutions that were set up over the last forty years at all levels were needing reform and updating. Rio did that for both theglobal bodies UN Environment Programme which was made a universal body and the UN Commission on Sustainable Development was closed down to be replaced by a High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development to be held back to back with the annual UN heads of government meeting in September.
Clearly there was a need to address the economy considering the last four years but also because to have a serious impact on our ability to live on this planet sustainably then we need to change our economies.
There are clear parallels between the ecological and financial crises. Banks and financial institutions privatized gains and socialized losses.
We are doing the same with the planet's natural capital. Our present lifestyles are drawing it down at irreplaceable rates from other parts of the world and from future generations.
The final area Rio+20 addressed was emerging issues and that is where I want to focus today's blog on.
One of the vital meetings that input to the Rio+20 Conference was the Bonn 2011 Nexus Conference. The conference goals were to create a better understanding of the interlinkages between the sectors of energy, food and water and develop a joint perspective on common changes and their interrelations and to look at options and solutions and what an enabling framework with incentives for these topics would bear the largest positive impact potential.
The issue of inter-linkages has been very difficult to address from the original Rio onward. The UN Commission on Sustainable Development tried throughout its history to do this but found people and organisations much happier in their sectors.
The German government who hosted the conference deserve an enormous credit for addressing the nexus but this time in a way that has continued its work since Rio. Why is this important?
We need to recognize we are living in a more and more resource-constrained world. In 2009, Johan Rockström at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and a group of 28 internationally renowned scientists identified and quantified a set of nine planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come. Crossing these boundaries could generate abrupt or irreversible environmental changes. Respecting the boundaries reduces the risks to human society of crossing these thresholds.
We are already exceeding the boundaries on three of the nine
- Climate Change
- Nitrogen and phosphorus
With easy exploitation of natural resources coming to an end in the next few decades, our world will be facing severe constraints to economic growth and human well-being. Current projections indicate rising future demands for water, energy and food, and predict subsequent strains on the natural systems.
These trends send a clear message to decision-makers in governments, business and civil society: the way in which countries deal with water, energy and food security will heavily influence economic growth, human well-being and the environment we live in and rely on.
Some of the global trends that are converging are:
- Population growth: Expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and 8 billion by 2024;
- Economic prosperity: There will be a rising economic prosperity in some of the emerging economies particularly in India and China;
- Increasing urban world: by 2030 over 60% of people will live in urban areas;
- Increase in energy demand: With more people and more people developing there will be an increased demand for energy provision and that energy provision has to be cleaner energy provision. With an expected economic growth rate of 6% p.a. in developing countries this will drive up global demand for energy by 30-40% by 2050;
- Increase in demand for food: How we feed the additional 2 billion people and increased consumption rates in certain countries, as they develop, current projections are that we will need agriculture production to increase by 70% by 2050 to meet the global demand for food;
- Increased need for water: Already 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water. The population growth per year is around 80 million people which requires an additional 64 billion cubic meters of water according to the UN. Demand for water will exceed global availability by 40 % in 2030.
If you add on to this the impacts of climate change then clearly we have a set of global trends that are starting to converge and which will require considerable political leadership in all sectors governments, industry, UN and other stakeholders.
Water, energy, and food sectors are interconnected in important ways, the actions in one sector may either help or harm the other two, but unless we consider this then the policy options that are available with be wrong.
The expected increase demand for energy, food and water can lead to unsustainable pressure on resources and an increased likelihood of conflict.
This pressure could finally result in shortages which may put water, energy and food security for the people at risk, hamper economic development, lead to social and geopolitical tensions and cause lasting irreparable environmental damage. There is a clear need for new approaches which address the interconnections within the water, energy and food security nexus. This is one of the vital areas for dialogue and experimentation post Rio+20.
This will be something I will be speaking on at the Futureye event "Don’t be mugged by reality" in Melbourne Australia on the 27th of November (11-4pm) if you are around join us.
Biodiversity and Ecosystem Insecurity - A Planet in Peril by Amhed Djoghlaf and Felix Dodds available from Amazon and all book shops for Xmas. Follow me on twitter.
"Many people around the world remain totally unaware that the Earth is losing its incredible array of plant and animal life at an unprecedented and alarming rate. The dangers to our global biodiversity and the impacts this will have on human society are clearly spelled out in this book which stresses that if we continue with business as usual, we will soon reach a tipping point, causing irreparable and irreversible damage to the major ecosystems that support life on our planet."
Edward Norton, United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity
Edward Norton, United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity