Climate, energy and water: a challenge for integrated management of planetary boundaries

Session at "Planet under Pressure" Conference // Climate, energy and water: a challenge for integrated management of planetary boundaries

A NEXUS session to analyse the different nexus connections, chaired by Jamie Pittock

Responding to climate change and sustaining water and energy supplies are great challenges for humanity. Sectoral decisions in these fields have major impacts on other environmental sectors. Case studies and synthesis papers will be presented. The output will include practical recommendations to better manage this nexus, which may also contribute to better management of the intersection of other planetary boundaries.


-Jamie Pittock, The Australian National University

-Roger Pulwarty, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

-Wang Yi, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Member, National Peoples Congress

-Kevin Noone, Stockholm University

-Michael Raupach, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research

Session Programme

The energy-water nexus: future opportunities and challenges

Energy and water are precious, global, and interconnected resources. Water provides hydroelectric power and plays a growing role for irrigation of energy crops. At the same time, the thermoelectric sector is the largest user of water in the U.S., withdrawing 200 billion gallons daily for powerplant cooling. And while the energy sector uses water, the water sector is responsible for about ten percent of national energy consumption for moving, pumping, treating, and heating water. Given recent trends towards more water-intensive energy and energy-intensive water, the problems might only become worse. However, despite the close relationship of energy and water, the funding, policymaking, and oversight of these resources are typically performed by different people in separate agencies. Energy planners often assume they will have the water they need and water planners often assume they will have the energy they need; if one of these assumptions fails, the consequences will be dramatic. But, by bringing scientific and engineering expertise to bear on this vastly understudied problem, this scenario might be avoided. This talk will build on the authors' research to share perspective on the global nexus of energy and water. In particular, this talk will discuss the water impacts of various alternative fuels that might potentially grow in use, including unconventional fossil fuels, electricity, and biofuels, along with some technical and policy options that are available to mitigate the challenges.

-Ms. K. Twomey

-Ms. M. Clayton

-Dr. C. King

-Mrs. A. Stillwell

-Dr. M. Webber

all University of Texas at Austin, USA

Power Generation and Water Stress in the US: Science to Inform Choices about Our Energy, Water and Climate Future

Nearly 75 percent of U.S. electricity is generated by powerplants that use water for cooling. These water demands can tax rivers and aquifers, threaten fish and wildlife, and spark conflicts between powerplants and other water users. Climate change stands to add to the strain. Higher temperatures raise electricity demand and lower cooling-system efficiency, while drought and changes in precipitation patterns may make freshwater supplies less reliable.

We report new findings on the impacts of power-plant water use on local water stress across the United States, and their implications for sustainable development of water and energy resources. This work was carried out under the auspices of Energy and Water in a Warming World (EW3), a research and outreach collaboration designed to motivate science-based public policy.

Cataloguing the water use characteristics of virtually every U.S. power generator in the nation, we developed a robust assessment of the water resource implications of cooling the nation's powerplants. Analyzing local water supply and demand conditions across the nation, we identified "hot spots" where current powerplant water use appears to contribute strongly to local water supply stress, and where water-intensive powerplant build-out could substantially exacerbate water stress. Strikingly, these "hot-spots" exist not only in the arid southwest, but across much of the country.

We also found that more than 100 US power plants discharged water at maximum temperatures that exceeded 90 degrees F in 2008, posing in some instances serious threats to aquatic ecosystems and to the reliability of electricity generation.

Outreach around these findings provide opportunities to support science-based dialogues about the water-demands of electricity production and informed decisions over which powerplants to build, which to retire, and what cooling technologies to deploy. We discuss the results of this outreach, and the opportunity to leverage science to support a sustainable energy, water and climate future.

-Prof. A. Huber-Lee, Tufts University, USA

-Dr. K. Averyt, University of Colorado Boulder/NOAA Western Water Assessment, Boulder, USA

-Dr. P. Frumhoff, Union of Concerned Scientists, USA

-Ms. N. Madden, Union of Concerned Scientists, USA

The Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus - Challenges and Opportunities

Given rapidly increasing resource demands, degrading natural resources and ecosystem services, climate and other global change pressures and persistently high rates of water, energy and food insecurity, cross-sectoral management and governance have been proposed to replace business as usual.

Jointly with a wide range of stakeholders we identified key links between water, energy, food and other ecosystem services (e.g. carbon sequestration), and initiated a consistent quantification of resource availabilities, -uses, -productivities and cross-sectoral externalities. For example, we found some new water solutions to be very energy intensive (e.g. desalination), some renewable energy solutions very water intensive (e.g. hydropower) and agricultural intensification often coming at high (blue) water and energy costs. Biofuels, proposed for climate protection, pose additional risks to food security by competing heavily for water and land if implemented according to various national strategies.

We identified opportunities for decoupling economic development from resource use and for co-management across sectors in multi-use systems (e.g. agro-forestry, integrated wastewater-energy systems, multi-purpose reservoirs), in order to reduce demands and avoid transgression of local, regional and planetary boundaries (which themselves are also tightly coupled). We find that globalization, which links regions e.g. through trade and foreign direct investment, can support a sustainability transition through technology transfer, capacity building, innovation and market access, but unless regulated well may also cause negative social and environmental externalities.

Based upon a number of national case studies, e.g. from China, India, Brazil, USA, Australia and Israel, we report on promising cross-sectoral initiatives, coherent policies, enabling conditions and incentives, for minimizing tradeoffs and exploiting synergies. We attempt to quantify and extrapolate the potentials of these context specific initiatives for sustainable and inclusive intensification under global change. However we also find that cross-sectoral integration increases complexity and transaction costs and reduces flexibility towards adaptive management.

-Mr. H. Hoff, Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden, and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany

-Dr. D. Gerten, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany

-Dr. J. Kuylenstierna, Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden

-Mr. C. Merdes, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany

-Prof. J. Rockström, Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden, and Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden

Sustainable Biofuels: an European Perspective

In the EU, biofuels are considered to be an important part of a climate change mitigation strategy and there are now EU targets for uptake of biofuels in road transport fuels. However, biofuels also present sustainability challenges due to land use change with consequent impacts on food crops and wildlife. EU legislation on biofuels has sustainability criteria within it to control these impacts. This presentation reports an EASAC study of biofuel sustainability and the outcome of a Workshop and Policy Forum held in November 2011 in Brussels. It starts with an assessment of the impacts of the EU biofuels target on biofuel production, starting with information on specific biofuels schemes. The sustainability of these schemes is then assessed using the framework of a Planetary Boundaries approach and with a specific focus on biodiversity, land & water use, and ecosystem services. The outcome of a policy forum in which the assessment is shared with key policy communities within the EU is reported and recommendations are made for the development of sustainability criteria within EU legislation.

-Prof. K. Noone

-Dr. J. Holmes

-Dr. J. Murlis

all EASAC, Germany

Policy Review on China's Green and Low-carbon Development

The world is in the most crucial period of transition in the 21st century, in which the future of human civilization will depend on our choice today. China has become the second largest economy in the world and is integrating a concept of green and low-carbon economy into the rapid economic growth by adopting a comprehensive approach in the next 10 years.

Based on a literature review, scenario study and systems analysis, the paper shows that the rising China has been facing more and more international conflicts and domestic development issues, such as energy security, basin-wide water pollution, loss of ecosystem services. All the issues are inexorably linked illustrating the interconnectedness of sustainability challenges and they need to be addressed jointly. In terms of China's practice of energy conservation and pollution reduction in the past 5 years, the paper shows that the co-benefit and balanced solutions are a good choice for China's transition to a green and low-carbon development.

As the first country to release the national Agenda 21, China's experience and lessons are of great significance for both China itself and other countries. The paper reviews the progress made and problems remained in pursuing the sustainable development and green economy in China with regard to policy formulation, institutional arrangements, planning, management, and systems innovation. By summarizing the best practices and policy trends, the paper points out that China has to maintain the integration approach on the one hand, and focus on prioritized problems of sustainability of countries on the other for a green future. The paper also presents policy recommendations for green and low-carbon development in the next 10 years in China.

-Prof. Y. Wang, Institute of Policy and Management, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China

The Role of Narrative in Shaping Energy-water-climate Futures

Here I explore the idea that narratives (in the sense of stories that empower actions) are meme sequences that evolve through diversification, selection and adaptation. This memetic evolution can be understood and influenced, but not controlled. In shaping our shared energy-water-climate future, the evolutionary contest between growth and finite-planet narratives is just as important as the dynamics of the natural world. The future therefore depends upon the evolution of more subtle and resilient narratives about human-earth interactions, in which energy, water and climate are central. The evolutionary fitness test for these narratives is to empower a transition to a society that lives within the means of a finite planet and improves global wellbeing at the same time.

-Dr. M.R. Raupach, CSIRO, Australia

The Architecture of Global Environmental Governance: Is Integration Necessary?

Globalization and modernization has meant that the scale of social, political, economic and environmental problems has reached the global level. This raises the question of whether 20th century governance architecture can still be incrementally used to deal with 21st century challenges. This paper focuses on environmental and developmental challenges - water, energy and climate change - to explore the nature of the current governance of these fields. In order to assess how governance should or can change, the paper then looks at three types of issues: (a) the potential nine organizational forms that can be used to modernize the existing governance approaches; (b) the theories on integration, fragmentation, pluralism, administrative law and multi-level governance to explore the limits of integration and coherence when applied to complex and wicked problems at global level; and (c) state perception of security issues and how national interests play out in terms of the politics of scale. Having analyzed these three different types of issues, the paper makes a case for arguing against integration, consolidation, centralization and hierarchies at the international level and instead posits that a new constitutional framework at global level which lays out the rules of the game would be more in line with the nature of the problem, the scale of the issues, the interests of states, than organizational re-engineering.

-Prof. J. Gupta, Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and UNESCO-IHE, The Netherlands

The Climate, Energy and Water Nexus: Frameworks for Managing Conflicts and Synergies

Responding to climate change and other environmental degradation while maintaining adequate supplies of energy and water are among the greatest challenges facing society. Often the conflicts or synergies between sectoral carbon sequestration, energy and water policies are not identified, reducing benefits for society. Our research starts by identifying a number of frameworks for assessing the intersection of these policies to facilitate better informed and proactive decision making to maximise benefits for people and the environment. These include new two-way and marginal cost approaches. We propose a typology for considering the energy-water nexus in sectoral governance terms that focus on: i) water use in energy supply, ii) water use in carbon sequestration, and iii) energy use in water supply.

Drawing on research into the different but complementary approaches to integrating climate, energy and water sector policies in Europe, Australia and the United States we identify four groups of measures to minimise perverse impacts and maximise benefits. These are: i) integrated information systems to better inform decision making; ii) development and promotion of technologies that have co-benefits in the water, energy and carbon sectors; iii) extension of markets for carbon, energy and water to minimise externalities; and iv) more transparent, integrated, iterative and accountable governance. These better governance processes are further elaborated with examples of their application involving: leadership; legal mandates for integration; mechanisms for horizontal and vertical interplay; as well as third party monitoring, assessment and accountability institutions. While focussed on climate, energy and water policies, we contend that these approaches may contribute to better management of conflicts and synergies between other environmental sectors and between development and the environment.

-Dr. J. Pittock

-Dr. K. Hussey

-Mr. S. McGlennon

all The Australian National University, Australia

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