The Future of Global Water Stress: An Integrated Assessment

  • Schlosser C
  • Strzepek K
  • Gao X
 et al. 
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Abstract

The MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change is an organization for research, independent policy analysis, and public education in global environmental change. It seeks to provide leadership in understanding scientific, economic, and ecological aspects of this difficult issue, and combining them into policy assessments that serve the needs of ongoing national and international discussions. To this end, the Program brings together an interdisciplinary group from two established research centers at MIT: the Center for Global Change Science (CGCS) and the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR). These two centers bridge many key areas of the needed intellectual work, and additional essential areas are covered by other MIT departments, by collaboration with the Ecosystems Center of the Marine Biology Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole, and by short-and long-term visitors to the Program. The Program involves sponsorship and active participation by industry, government, and non-profit organizations. To inform processes of policy development and implementation, climate change research needs to focus on improving the prediction of those variables that are most relevant to economic, social, and environmental effects. In turn, the greenhouse gas and atmospheric aerosol assumptions underlying climate analysis need to be related to the economic, technological, and political forces that drive emissions, and to the results of international agreements and mitigation. Further, assessments of possible societal and ecosystem impacts, and analysis of mitigation strategies, need to be based on realistic evaluation of the uncertainties of climate science. This report is one of a series intended to communicate research results and improve public understanding of climate issues, thereby contributing to informed debate about the climate issue, the uncertainties, and the economic and social implications of policy alternatives. Titles in the Report Series to date are listed on the inside back cover. Abstract We assess the ability of global water systems, resolved at 282 large river basins or Assessment Sub Regions (ASRs), to the meet water requirements over the coming decades under integrated projections of socioeconomic growth and climate change. We employ a Water Resource System (WRS) component embedded within the MIT Integrated Global System Model (IGSM) framework in a suite of simulations that consider a range of climate policies and regional hydroclimatic changes through the middle of this century. We find that for many developing nations water-demand increases due to population growth and economic activity have a much stronger effect on water stress than climate change. By 2050, economic growth and population change alone can lead to an additional 1.8 billion people living in regions with at least moderate water stress. Of this additional 1.8 billion people, 80% are found in developing countries. Uncertain regional climate change can play a secondary role to either exacerbate or dampen the increase in water stress due to socioeconomic growth. The strongest climate impacts on relative changes in water stress are seen over many areas in Africa, but strong impacts also occur over Europe, Southeast Asia and North America. The combined effects of socioeconomic growth and uncertain climate change lead to a 1.0 to 1.3 billion increase of the world's 2050 projected population living in regions with overly exploited water conditions— where total potential water requirements will consistently exceed surface-water supply. Under the context of the WRS model framework, this would imply that adaptive measures would be taken to meet these surface-water shortfalls and would include: water-use efficiency, reduced and/or redirected consumption, recurrent periods of water emergencies or curtailments, groundwater depletion, additional inter-basin transfers, and overdraw from flow intended to maintain environmental requirements.

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Authors

  • C Adam Schlosser

  • Kenneth Strzepek

  • Xiang Gao

  • Arthur Gueneau

  • Charles Fant

  • Sergey Paltsev

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