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What’s Missing at Durban? The Water-Food-Energy-Climate Nexus

3p Contributor | Saturday December 10th, 2011 | 1 Comment

 By Andy Wales, SABMiller plc

Whilst the debates at Durban struggle to agree a way forward on climate, a more fundamental change is needed in the form of a paradigm shift in viewing the world’s environmental problems.

Today, environmental challenges are still often looked at as standalone crises. But the challenges around climate change, water, energy and food security cannot be considered in isolation.

By 2030 to meet society’s needs, we must grow and process 70 percent more food, using the same amount of water resources and, despite higher energy demands, do so while emitting much less carbon.

While this all-encompassing equation may seem daunting, applying a holistic lens serves to make the challenge more tangible and forces new ways of thinking about solutions.

For the discussions at Durban and beyond, the first point of order should be to reframe the problem.

Interconnecting Issues
It is not difficult to appreciate how our water, food and energy crises are interconnected.  In 2030, the world’s middle class will have grown from 2 to 5 billion people. The challenge will be to provide these people with a decent standard of living and the food, energy and water requirements that this implies, without further straining our planet.

We must find ways to increase our productivity in agriculture and energy generation, while using less water to do so.  We can’t have clean water without energy to help treat and pump that water.  We can’t have clean water for communities if intensive agriculture leads to pollution of water sources. And without sufficient water resources, energy production is challenged because so many power sources rely heavily on water.

Luckily, this spiral isn’t only one of risk; it is also one of opportunity.

The Business Lens
It is helpful to look at these challenges not only from an environmental perspective, but also that of business. Businesses are naturally geared up to solve problems, drive efficiency and find new and better ways of doing things.  In fact, many global companies – from Coca-Cola to Dow Chemical to my company SABMiller  – are working with NGOs to develop practical, local solutions that create more value using less – less water, less energy, less packaging.

In fact, the private sector has the potential to drive change to increase the security and sustainability of both our own supply chains and the resources of surrounding communities, but to do so we need partners. We need agriculture, energy and water policy which recognizes the interdependence between resources and strives for dramatic efficiency gains.

From Durban to Rio
As we travel toward the Rio + 20 summit in mid-2012, we will be most effective if we re-frame the discussion to recognize the water, food, energy and climate nexus.
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Andy Wales is head of sustainable development at SABMiller plc, the world’s second largest brewer. 

 The company has set targets to reduce its water use per litre of beer by 25% between 2008 and 2015 from 4.6 litres used to make 1 litre of beer, to an average of 3.5 litres. In addition SABMiller has committed to reduce fossil fuel emissions by 50% per litre of beer produced between 2009 and 2020.


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  • Mr. Kim Gyr

    Thank you for discussing the water, food, energy and climate nexus. As a designer with 31 years of experience in Europe, including 6 on the faculty of the Swiss campus of Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, one of the best regarded university-level design schools in the world.
    I have been designing a 100% sustainable global infrastructure since 1981 – 2, and discuss the proposals on my website at http://www.greenmillennium.eu
    The creation of the world’s first 100% sustainable global infrastructure is mandatory if humanity is to survive the imminent disappearance of petroleum as an energy source, so we had all better get very busy in its creation! Please view the website above, and contribute even better proposals, for the sake of all our children’s children’s children’s…children in the Years 4000 and 100,000,000!