Societal opportunities and challenges 3

Energy and water in a vulnerable and changing environment

Sharply accelerating demands for food and energy production place increasing pressure on the availability of water for vulnerable ecosystems and the biodiversity and human livelihoods they sustain. Energy production, be it hydropower development, biofuel production, shale gas exploitation or other forms of energy production, may have serious environmental and social consequences that need to be properly assessed and addressed.

Climate change may affect the water system through increased variability, long term temperature and water balance changes and sea level rise, and is in many cases an added driver to be considered.

Climate adaptation is primarily about water and land, but water resources are also critical for climate change mitigation, as many efforts to reduce carbon emissions rely on water availability. Because the water cycle is so sensitive to climate change, and because water is so vital to energy generation and carbon storage, we need to recognise the coherence between mitigation and adaptation measures. In ensuring this, and managing variability and environmental flow requirements, storage of both energy and becomes a critical issue, including water as a medium for storing energy. Storage may be required at all levels, from the household and village levels to major infrastructure in a transboundary settings, not least in developing countries. Such storage may be provided through investments in conventional infrastructure and/or in the restoration and management of natural systems.