The deep-rooted relationships between water and energy are being highlighted during global celebrations marking the United Nations' annual World Water Day.
"Water and energy are among the world's most pre-eminent challenges. This year's focus of World Water Day brings these issues to the attention of the world," said Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization and Chair of UN-Water, which coordinates World Water Day and freshwater-related efforts UN system-wide.
The UN predicts that by 2030 the global population will need at least 35% more food, 40% more water and 50% more energy. Already today 768 million people lack access to improved water sources, 2.5 billion people have no improved sanitation and 1.3 billion people cannot access electricity.
"These issues need urgent attention - both now and in the post-2015 development discussions. The situation is unacceptable. It is often the same people who lack access to water and sanitation who also lack access to energy, " said Mr. Jarraud.
The 2014 World Water Development Report (WWDR) - a UN-Water flagship report, produced and coordinated by the World Water Assessment Programme, which is hosted and led by UNESCO - is released on World Water Day as an authoritative status report on global freshwater resources. It highlights the need for policies and regulatory frameworks that recognize and integrate approaches to water and energy priorities.
WWDR, a triennial report from 2003 to 2012, this year becomes an annual edition, responding to the international community's expression of interest in a concise, evidence-based and yearly publication with a specific thematic focus and recommendations.
WWDR 2014 underlines how water-related issues and choices impact energy and vice versa. For example: drought diminishes energy production, while lack of access to electricity limits irrigation possibilities.
The report notes that roughly 75% of all industrial water withdrawals are used for energy production. Tariffs also illustrate this interdependence: if water is subsidized to sell below cost (as is often the case), energy producers - major water consumers - are less likely to conserve it. Energy subsidies, in turn, drive up water usage.
The report stresses the imperative of coordinating political governance and ensuring that water and energy prices reflect real costs and environmental impacts.
"Energy and water are at the top of the global development agenda," said the Rector of United Nations University (UNU), David Malone, this year's coordinator of World Water Day on behalf of UN-Water together with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
"Significant policy gaps exist in this nexus at present, and the UN plays an instrumental role in providing evidence and policy-relevant guidance. 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."
UNIDO Director-General LI Yong, emphasized the importance of water and energy for inclusive and sustainable industrial development.
"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. 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," said Mr. LI.
Helping to raise global awareness of World Water Day is the 'Water for Life' UN-Water Best Practices Award, presented annually in two categories to recognize and promote efforts to fulfill international water-related commitments and achieve internationally-agreed targets.
This year's winners will be announced March 21 during a special ceremony in which Mr. Jarraud, UN-Water Chair, Mr. Seishi Kohyama, Mayor of Kumamoto City in Japan, Mr. Miguel Angel Navarro, Ambassador of Spain to Japan, and Mr. Zafar Adeel, from the United Nations University and President of 2014 Jury, will participate.
Other celebrations worldwide held on or before 22 March to mark World Water Day include songwriting, public discussions, talks and debates, sport events, concerts, photo contests, and film screenings.
Facts about the water-energy nexus
- 90% of power production is water intensive
- The International Energy Agency estimated (2010) global water withdrawals for energy production at 583 billion m3 (representing some 15% of the world's total withdrawals, or roughly 75% of industrial water withdrawals), of which 66 billion m3 was consumed.
- By 2035, withdrawals could increase by 20% and consumption by 85%, 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.
- There is an increasing risk of conflict between power generation, other water users and environmental considerations.
- Thermal power generation accounts for roughly 80% of global electricity production and is responsible for roughly one half of all water withdrawals in the United States and in several European countries.
- 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% of global electricity production.
- By 2035, global water withdrawals for energy are expected to increase by 20%, whereas water consumption for energy is expected to increase by 85%.
- Unconventional oil (e.g., oil/tar sands) and gas production (e.g., "fracking") are generally more water intensive than conventional oil and gas production.
Facts about water
- 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water - although by some estimates, the number of people whose right to water is not satisfied could be as high as 3.5 billion - and 2.5 billion are without sanitation.
- Total freshwater withdrawals are believed to have increased by about 1% per year since the late 1980's.
- Water demand in terms of water withdrawals is projected to increase by some 44% by 2050 due to growing demands from manufacturing, thermal power generation (mainly from the expansion of coal and gas powered plants), agriculture and domestic use.
- The rate of groundwater abstraction is increasing by 1% to 2% per year, adding to water stress in several areas. Recent evidence has shown that ground- water supplies are diminishing, with an estimated 20% of the world's aquifers being over-exploited, and some massively so.
- Desalinated water involves the use of at least 75.2 TWh/year, which is about 0.4% of global electricity consumption.
- It is estimated that more than 80% of used water worldwide - and up to 90% in developing countries - is neither collected nor treated, threatening human and environmental health.
Facts about energy
- 1.3 billion people currently live without electricity, and roughly 2.6 billion use solid fuels (mainly biomass) for cooking.
- By 2035, energy demand is projected to grow by more than one-third and demand for electricity is expected to grow by 70% by 2035.
- Modern biofuels represent only 0.8% of global final energy consumption, but their contribution to energy supply is expected to grow rapidly. If bioenergy feedstock is produced on irrigated lands, then the potential impact of biofuels on water resources is also of major concern.
- Fossil fuel consumption subsidies totalled US$523 billion in 2011 (an increase of almost 30% over the total for 2010). Financial support for renewable energy, by comparison, amounted to only $88 billion in 2011, and increased by another 24% in 2012.
- With the global energy market estimated at 6 trillion US dollars annually, the energy sector is synonymous with 'big business'. The energy sector is well funded, highly organized, and attracts greatly more political attention than water in most countries.
Overarching messages, World Water Day 2014:
- Water requires energy and energy requires water
- Supplies are limited and demand is increasing
- Saving energy is saving water: saving water is saving energy
- The "bottom billion" urgently need access to both water and sanitation services, and electricity
- Improving water and energy efficiency in all sectors is imperative as are coordinated, coherent and concerted policies
More about the Water / Energy nexus
Water and energy are closely interlinked and interdependent. These interdependencies lie at the heart of what is known as the "water-energy nexus".
Energy has different forms, and water is crucial to produce, transport, and use all forms of energy to some degree, and these activities have different impacts on water resources. Water is used in the extractive industries to produce fuels such as coal, oil, gas and uranium.
The increasing momentum in the production of biofuels has created a growing demand on water resources; WWDR 2012 predicts that even a nominal increase in biofuel demand (say 5% of road transport by 2030, as predicted by the International Energy Agency) could push up the water demand by as much as 20% of the water used for agriculture worldwide. Conventional energy generation requires the mobilization and utilization of considerable water resources, particularly for cooling for nuclear and thermal energy, and reservoir storage and driving turbines for hydroelectricity. Power generation is particularly sensitive to water availability and several power plants have been forced to shut down due to lack of cooling water or high water temperatures.
In terms of renewable energy, solar power, depending on its type, can use little water (solar photovoltaic) or five times more water per unit energy (concentrated solar power) than a gas-fired thermal power plant or two times more than a coal-fired plant. Wind power uses a negligible amount of water but has other limitations. Geothermal energy has been reported to use and consume less water than other electricity generating technologies, though actual water requirements are variable and dependant on site conditions. While the water is generally reinjected to the reservoir, co-production of water and energy offers interesting opportunities to energy- and water-scarce countries.
On the other side of the nexus, about 8% of the global energy generation is used for pumping, treating, and transporting and water to various consumers. Water, beingdense, requires much energy to move it. Globally, the amount of energy used for irrigation is directly related to the huge amounts of water pumped. In addition, water and water treatment processes can require a lot of energy, though this is dependent on the contamination and treatment technology. Moreover, different levels of treatment are required depending on the use. For example, drinking water for municipal systems typically requires extensive treatment and once it becomes wastewater it requires treating again before it can be discharged to the environment.
Growing demand for limited water supplies puts increasing pressure on water intensive energy producers to seek alternative approaches, especially in areas where energy is competing with other major water users (agriculture, manufacturing, drinking water and sanitation services for cities) and where water uses may be restricted to maintain healthy ecosystems. Uncertainties related to the growth and evolution of global energy production (e.g., via growth in unconventional sources of gas and oil, or biofuels) can create significant risks to water resources and other users.
Securing water and energy must be central to the new and emerging agenda around the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development dialogue. This must also be linked to the design of a resilient climate and robust green economy, as noted in the Section III of the Rio+20 document "The Future We Want." With industries being major water and energy consumers, a green economy will be contingent to the greening of the industrial sector and that is more resource efficient, and has cleaner production. A particular emphasis has to be placed on increasing the water use efficiency in energy production - essentially producing more kWh per drop of water. This would require a policy environment in which economic and social incentives are offered to promote water use efficiency and protect freshwater ecosystems.
The UN system - working closely with its international partners and donors - is collectively bringing its attention to the water-energy nexus, particularly addressing inequities, especially for the 'bottom billion' who live in slums and impoverished rural areas and survive without access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, sufficient food, and energy services. It also aims to facilitate the development of policies and crosscutting frameworks that bridge ministries and sectors, leading the way to interlinked energy security and sustainable water use in a green economy. Particular attention is being paid to identifying best practices that can make a water- and energy-efficient 'Green Industry' a reality: several methodologies are at play in which industrial productivity can be increased while reducing the water and energy footprints.
The world cannot continue to ignore or escape the strong link between water and energy. They are not independent variables in the world's economic-ecosystem equation. The goal of WWD is show the positive aspects of that connection and how it may be put to better and more efficient use by the cooperation of all interested and affected parties; that is essentially everyone, as we all need water and energy.
World Water Development Report
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World Water Day
An international day to celebrate and mark the vital importance of freshwater was recommended at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The UN General Assembly responded by designating 22 March 1993 as the first World Water Day. Each year, World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater and is coordinated by one or more Member(s) on behalf of UN-Water.
UN-Water is the United Nations inter-agency coordination mechanism for freshwater related issues, including sanitation. It was formally established in 2003 building on a long tradition of collaboration within the UN.
United Nations University (UNU), a global think tank and postgraduate teaching organization headquartered in Japan, contributes through collaborative research and education to resolving pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare that are the concern of the United Nations, its Peoples and Member States.
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is a specialized agency that promotes and accelerates sustainable industrial development in developing countries and economies in transition to achieve poverty reduction, inclusive globalization and environmental sustainability.