Attaining Energy, Water and Food Security for All

14th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit

6-8 February, 2014 | Taj Palace, New Delhi, India


DSDS 2014: Attaining Energy, Water and Food Security for All

It is becoming increasingly clear that the challenges the world faces in respect of energy, water and food security are interlinked. Consequently, if strategies have to be developed for tackling one or the other aspect of this integrated challenge we would need to consider comprehensive and critical aspects of managing supply and demand for energy, water and food in a manner that ensures security in each of these. The world today has reached a population of seven billion, which in a few decades is likely to increase by another two billion according to most projections. It is also expected that despite the current economic problems that several countries and societies are facing, incomes will grow, particularly, in some of the largest and most populous countries in the world. All of this would translate into greater demand for all three inputs which are at the core of human activities.

At the same time, a common challenge that those responsible for energy, water and food have to contend with are the impacts of climate change. If the world is to move towards effective mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, then major changes would be required in the manner in which energy is produced and consumed. Inevitably, this would involve high levels of efficiency in the entire energy cycle and a shift towards low carbon sources, particularly renewable sources of energy. That would involve major changes in those sectors which are essentially consumers of energy as well as a transition on the supply side. Given the fact that today's infrastructure is designed for current patterns of energy supply, several changes will have to be taken in hand such that energy consuming assets are not rendered obsolete, but are replaced over time allowing global society to move along a path of transition, which does not result in massive reduction of economic output and employment opportunities. Again, the manner in which change is to take place would be dictated by differences between the developed and developing countries and even within each of these groupings. If there is a global will to mitigate emissions of GHGs, then issues of financing, easy access to technology and building of capacity and capabilities in various institutions would need to be addressed. Of crucial importance would be a need to bring those who are currently outside the modern energy system into a system that allows the 1.3 billion people in the world without access to electricity and the almost three billion who use biomass as a fuel, into systems which reduce not only GHG emissions but also local pollutants. These changes would necessarily take place along with changes in demand for energy which would be the result of growing demand for space conditioning with changes in the climate.

In the case of water, it would be relevant to mention that some parts of the world are already facing a serious level of water stress. In Africa, for instance, the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the IPCC projected that in 2020, a total of 75 to 250 million people in Africa would be living under water stress as a result of climate change. Estimates for other parts of the world also provide reasons for concern.

At the same time, we are aware that with population growth and higher levels of per capita consumption water scarcity is growing in several parts of the world. It is also an established fact that the bulk of water used today goes into agriculture. Scarcity, therefore, could become an important determinant of possible reductions in food supply.

Agriculture would be vulnerable to the impacts of climate change not only on account of changes in the availability of water but also because of changing temperatures and possible increase in pests as a result of climate change. Again, in the case of Africa, the AR4 has assessed that by 2020 some countries may face reduction in yields of up to 50% on account of climate change and climate variability. The issue of food security, therefore, is not one that can be measured and understood on the basis of aggregate global values but at the basic grassroots level in terms of security of supply for individual households. A large number of farmers in the world produce barely enough food to meet their own needs. Any reduction, therefore, may not impact in a major way on global food supply, but would certainly affect the livelihoods of a large number of small farmers and their families. Yet, it is precisely this section of farmers who have yet not benefitted from research in the agricultural field, which could lead to changes in farming practices, cropping patterns and improved seeds. There is a need for a major global effort to focus on agriculture in drought prone areas and in locations where there is high dependence on rainfall, the patterns of which may be changing.

The human condition in the future would depend increasingly on how we are able to visualize and quantify some of the threats that we are likely to witness in supply of energy, water and food, because it is only then that measures can be taken in hand early enough to be able to devise adaptation measures and evolve new knowledge and technological solutions by which security can be enhanced and the risks of negative changes can be reduced.

Dr R K Pachauri, Director-General, TERI
(This article also featured in the Hindustan Times on 15th November, 2013)