It is clear that the challenges the world faces in 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.
At the same time, the world will have to contend with the impact of climate change. If the world is to move towards the 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 energy cycle and a shift towards low-carbon sources. That would involve major changes in those sectors that are 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, changes will have to be undertaken so that energy-consuming assets are not rendered obsolete, but are replaced over time, allowing society to move along a path of transition, which does not result in the massive reduction of economic output and employment opportunities.
The change 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 must be addressed. Of crucial importance would be a need to bring those who are outside the modern energy system into one 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.
In the case of water, some parts of the world are facing serious 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 due to climate change. Thanks to population growth and higher levels of per capita consumption, water scarcity is growing. 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 climate change not only on account of changes in the availability of water but also because of changing temperatures and a possible increase in pests as a result of climate change. 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 level in terms of security of supply for individual households.
A large number of farmers produce enough food to meet their own needs. Any reduction, therefore, may not impact the global food supply but would affect the livelihoods of a large number of small farmers. Yet, it is this section of farmers who have not benefitted from research, which could lead to changes in farming practices, cropping patterns and improved seeds. There is a need for a global effort to focus on agriculture in drought-prone areas and in locations where there is a high dependence on rainfall, the patterns of which may be changing.
The human condition, in the future, would depend on how we are able to visualise and quantify some of the threats that we are likely to witness in the supply of energy, water and food. It is only then that measures can be taken 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.
RK Pachauri, Director General, TERI
The views expressed by the author are personal