The United Nations (U.N.) shines a light on the critical issue of freshwater resources – and linkages with energy – with the March 21 release of the 2014 World Water Development Report (WWDR). Produced by the U.N.'s World Water Assessment Program (U.N.-Water), WWDR 2014 is being released in conjunction with special events sponsored around the world as part of this year's World Water Day celebrations on Saturday.
Forecasting that the global population will need 40 percent more water by 2030, the ambitious report highlights the threat to water supplies posed by the conflicting interests of a growing global population for energy and food, as well as water itself. The list is extensive, including regulations and governance that lead to perverse outcomes, along with threats from water contamination, pollution, climate change and the often profligate ways in which we use and manage freshwater resources.
WWDR 2014 also offers potential solutions, focusing in particular on governance at the water-energy nexus. "Energy and water are at the top of the global development agenda," Rector of United Nations University David Malone, this year's coordinator of World Water Day on behalf of U.N.-Water together with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), said in a press release.
“Through this day, we seek to inform decision-makers, stakeholders and practitioners about the interlinkages, potential synergies and trade-offs, and highlight the need for appropriate responses and regulatory frameworks that account for both water and energy priorities. From UNU's perspective, it is essential that we stimulate more debate and interactive dialogue around possible solutions to our energy and water challenges."
"There is a strong call today for integrating the economic dimension, and the role of industry and manufacturing in particular, into the global post-2015 development priorities,” Director-General Li noted.
“Experience shows that environmentally sound interventions in manufacturing industries can be highly effective and can significantly reduce environmental degradation. I am convinced that inclusive and sustainable industrial development will be a key driver for the successful integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions."
By 2035, withdrawals could increase by 20 percent and consumption by 85 percent -- driven via a shift towards higher efficiency power plants with more advanced cooling systems (that reduce water withdrawals but increase consumption) and increased production of biofuel. Local and regional impacts of biofuels could be substantial, as their production is among the most water intensive types of fuel production.
Several factors determine how much cooling water is needed by thermal power plants, including the fuel type, cooling system design and prevailing meteorological conditions. However, efficiency is often the main factor that drives water requirements: The more efficient the power plant, the less heat has to be dissipated, thus less cooling is required.
Hydroelectricity, which can also require abundant water supplies, accounts for about 15 percent of global electricity production.
By 2035, global water withdrawals for energy are expected to increase by 20 percent, whereas water consumption for energy is expected to increase by 85 percent.
Unconventional oil (e.g., oil/tar sands) and gas production (e.g., "fracking") are generally more water intensive than conventional oil and gas production.
An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.