Attaining Energy, Water and Food Security for All

14th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit

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


The theme for the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2014 is 'Attaining Energy, Water, and Food Security for All'. Sessions and discussions at DSDS 2014 will revolve around the following sub-themes:

  • The Energy, Water, Food Triangle
  • Ensuring and Expanding Access to Energy, Water and Food
  • The Role of Lifestyle Changes - Development of a No Waste and High Conservation Ethic
  • The Demographic Challenge
  • Dealing with the Impacts of Climate Change
  • Gender: the Core Issue in Sustainable Development
  • Re-thinking development
  • Equalling the Energy, Water and Food Security Challenge in Asia
  • Equalling the Energy, Water, and Food Security Challenges in Africa
  • Communicating for Sustainability

1. The energy, water and food triangle

The entire cycle for energy production, supply and distribution as well as in the case of water and food are not distinct and unrelated to each other. If we are to face the challenge of increasing food production for a growing population, then we have to consider increase in demand with higher incomes against the existence of widespread malnutrition and hunger even today. We would necessarily have to ensure that the critical inputs of energy and water are adequate for expanding food production in the future. Population and income increases also have a direct impact on the demand for energy as well as water. There is also a reverse link between food and energy, because some solutions for supply of biofuels, for instance, as in the case of ethanol from food crops, require enlightened choices, so that while enhancing renewable energy supply we do not adversely affect the production of food.

The challenge before the world in bringing about adequate production and consumption of energy, water as well as food is to take an integrated view of the three elements of this system. All these would also be impacted by climate change, and future strategies would need to take the projections of climate change into account on an integrated basis.

2. Ensuring and expanding access to energy, water and food

There are still a billion plus people in the world living in a state of poverty and, therefore, suffering deprivation in access to energy, water and food. Almost 1.3 billion people in the world lack access to electricity, and more than twice this number are depending on the use of biomass for cooking and other domestic applications. In the case of water, in India alone almost half the population is without access to safe drinking water. At the same time in large parts of the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia, many are still afflicted by hunger and malnutrition. In the case of energy, renewable energy technologies provide promise for those who are currently outside the modern energy system. In the case of water, improvements in management of this resource and a proactive expansion of supply of clean drinking water would be important for meeting critical needs and curbing widespread water-borne diseases. In the case of food, strengthening distribution systems and providing adequate government support would be important considerations for ensuring access to food.

3. The role of lifestyle changes – development of a no waste and high conservation ethic

The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) clearly highlighted lifestyle changes as a means to mitigate the emissions of greenhouse gases. It was also stated in the same report that management changes can also lead to mitigation of emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Essentially, the approach implied in this assessment was that through efficient use of resources the level of output or utility that a consumer derives need not be compromised because it should be possible to get the same output through more efficient use and, therefore, lower levels of input in both the production as well as the consumption stages of the cycle associated with specific goods and services. In this case also it needs to be highlighted that a number of production and consumption decisions impose negative externalities on the environment, the earth's ecosystems and a large range of natural resources. Through minimisation of waste and the pursuit of a conservation ethic human welfare can be enhanced while the consumption of resources can be minimised and impacts on the environment and ecosystems reduced significantly. Identifying possible lifestyle changes with these objectives and arriving at policies and measures by which they could be implemented would be of great value to society.

4. The demographic challenge

The world has now crossed a total population of 7 billion, and projections indicate that before stabilisation takes place, world population could reach anywhere between 9 to 10 billion. This has to be seen against the historical reality of the earth's population having been only 2 billion at the start of the 20th century. Population growth will most likely be accompanied by disproportionate increase in the demands for goods and services, because the level of wealth and income across the world is growing rapidly, leading to increasing demand for goods and services. Logically, therefore, the demographic challenge has to be seen in conjunction with the attendant increase in demand for production and consumption of goods and services. The world faces two challenges in this respect. Firstly, how can stabilisation of the earth's population be brought about early and at a realistically low level? Secondly, how do we ensure that population increase does not enhance the pressure on our natural resources and lead to their depletion and degradation? Are there good case studies and stories of societies or communities where these twin challenges have been met? If so, these need to be evaluated carefully and replicated in other parts of the world where population growth and consumerism are increasing at levels that would impact infavourably on the earth's ecosystems and natural resources.

5. Dealing with the impacts of climate change

The impacts of climate change are now much better known than was the case two decades ago. The Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC and more recently the release of the Working Group I report which is the first part of the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report strengthen earlier findings showing the unequivocal effect of human actions in altering the climate of this planet. Projections of impacts such as sea level rise, which in a scenario which involves no mitigation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) could be as high as 0.98 meters. Other impacts that would take place if mitigation of GHGs is not implemented early and adequately would require serious consideration by humanity. Essentially, an approach involving adaptation and mitigation would be necessary to deal with the overall challenge of climate change, and neither adaptation nor mitigation alone would be able to solve the problem. Policies and institutional changes by which adaptation and mitigation need to be taken in hand require careful evaluation and assessment for implementation.

6. Gender: The core issue in sustainable development

Gender equality, in addition to being a human right, is also pivotal to social, economic and environmental progress. It needs to be well integrated into sustainable development policies and practice. Efforts in this direction focus on creating equal access to resources and opportunities for men and women including those required to reach their full potential in every society across the globe. Women should have opportunities to be able to engage in decent work, reduce their time burdens, and have access to, and control over, land and productive assets, as well as to energy, water and sanitation, health and education. Sustainable development practice requires an end to violence against women and girls which is of critical importance to gender equality and seriously inhibits the ability to enjoy rights and freedoms and fulfill their true potential. Women need to have voice, leadership, and participation, not just in national and state parliaments, public and private institutions at local and regional levels, industry, but also at the household level, to enable more green economic choices and inclusive and equitable development.

7. Re-thinking development

In 2000, world leaders set before themselves a set of laudable targets, also known as the Millennium Development Goals, popularly referred to as the MDGs. These, in brief terms, incorporate the following:

Goal 1 – Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty; Goal 2 – Achieve universal primary education; Goal 3 – Promote gender equality and empower women; Goal 4 – Reduce child mortality; Goal 5 – Improve maternal health; Goal 6 – Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; Goal 7 – Ensure environmental sustainability; and Goal 8 – Develop a global partnership for development.

The MDGs constitute some of the most important 'promises' made to the 'most-vulnerable' communities on this planet. While uneven but significant progress has been made so far and some goals still seem attainable, there are several factors hindering the progress towards securing all these goals. This session will attempt to review the progress that has been achieved so far, identify key challenges and learnings that steered the course of the journey since the inception of the MDGs, and above all, attempt to chart a course of action post the 2015 milestone.

8. Equalling the Energy, Water and Food Security Challenge in Asia

Asia's rapid growth in recent decades has lifted hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty, but the region remains home to two-thirds of the world's poor. Poverty reduction remains a daunting task. For developing Asia as a whole, 1.7 billion people (45% of the population) lack access to sanitation and 680 million are without access to electricity (according to OECD data).

A recent Asian Development Bank (ADB) study cites three forces behind this rising inequality: new technology, globalisation, and market-oriented reform – ironically, they are also the primary drivers of Asia's rapid growth. These forces have created enormous economic opportunities, but the opportunities have not been equally shared by all. One of the most visible side-effects of Asia's rapid growth has been increasing environmental damage. The reliance on fossil fuels has degraded air quality and eco-systems, reduced the supply of clean water, and created significant health hazards. Cities of the region are amongst the most polluted and the most vulnerable to extreme weather events. Recent climate-related disasters in the region are a reminder that there is a dire need for action to protect, mitigate the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and minimise the impacts of climate change as well as secure sustainable growth for the future.

Attaining energy, water and food security for the region, in this light, becomes uniquely important. The session will address issues specific to the region and its people.

9. Equalling the Energy, Water, and Food Security Challenges in Africa

Africa's growth in an ailing global economy is indicative of the continent's resilience and development potential. However, climate change coupled with increasing populations will exacerbate water, energy and food crises. The IPCC assessments report more frequent extreme weather, with serious consequences for developing countries with population livelihoods dependent on rain-fed subsistence farming. Observational evidence show persistent signs of decreasing levels of vital water resources such as lakes, rivers, and snow cover on high mountains. In the African context, more than 1.2 billion people lack access to modern energy, and 2.8 billion rely on solid biomass fuels for cooking and heating. Although efforts are being made to address universal access to energy, clean drinking water, and food security, challenges and barriers still persist. The African Session at the Summit will explore the nexus approach to attaining energy, water and food security that leads to sustainable development and poverty and hunger alleviation for all in Africa.

10. Communicating for Sustainability

"For too many people, especially those in industrialized nations, "sustainability" is a dirty word associated with deprivation, the redistribution of global wealth and overly earnest do-gooders. In the developing world sustainability and its application are often interpreted as an attempt by the developed world to deny the fruits of growth and development for those who are poor. These sorts of perceptions make it difficult to rally public support for practices and policies that encourage sustainability, and they are at the heart of the movement to deny climate change and prevent action to prevent it. How, then, do we change negative perceptions about sustainability? Is sustainability akin to a product that needs better marketing? Do we need new messages and messengers to reach the naysayers? Or do we ignore them and try to build a more sustainable world through policy and the support of those who have already embraced sustainability? This panel of some of the world's leading environmental communicators will explore these questions and impart practical knowledge on how to more effectively communicate the promise and necessity of sustainability."

11. The Role of MDBs in Attaining Energy, Water and Food Security

The MDBs have established a record of service to humanity and in highlighting problems that human society is likely to face in the future. They have also worked towards and in providing solutions which can be replicated by national and sub-national governments as well as civil society in countries across the developing world. The challenge of attaining energy, water and food security for all is complex and has to be seen as an important part of development strategy that MDBs are attempting to promote. Two specific approaches would be highly relevant in this regard. The MDBs need to focus on the problems of the poor who currently have extremely deficient or inadequate access to energy, clean drinking water as well as food and nutrition. The solution to this problem is intimately related to the problem of removing poverty, but there is also need to bring about changes in institutional arrangements and provision of safety nets by which the needs of the poor can be met at least at a basic level. The second area in which MDBs can play a crucial role is in bringing innovation to the doorstep of communities, such as through harnessing renewable energy on a decentralized basis, simple water purification techniques and growing food with efficient use of inputs. MDBs can implement projects and programmes in some of these areas which can be replicated on the basis of their success on a large scale.

12. Centre-stage India: In-Conversation with Indian Officials

India has pursued a pattern of development and inclusive growth that clearly includes efforts towards ensuring energy, water and food security for all its people. Indeed, these efforts have to go much further to take care of the needs of the over 1.2 billion people living in India today and a larger number that we would see living in the country in the coming decades. India has a federal structure which requires action not only at the level of the central government but also in the states of India. Equally important is the need for the various departments at every level to function horizontally with coordination that ensures integrated solutions rather than piecemeal and segmented approaches. India has a strong civil service structure, and the session would actually shed light on issues of coordinated planning and implementation of programmes taking an integrated view of energy, water and food issues and ensuring coordination between the central government and governments in the states of India.