The 'Perfect Storm Scenario' and 'Nexus Thinking' to Meet Increasing Demand for Energy, Food & Water


26 july 2013

With the global population growing at a rate of approximately 80 million people a year, by 2030 it is estimated that the world will need 30% more water, 50% more energy and 50% more food.  

Growing populations, increasing demand for energy, food and water will create the "Perfect Storm" by 2030, according to the UK government's chief scientific adviser Professor John Beddington. In his address at the at the GovNet SDUK09 event he added that climate change will exacerbate matters in unpredictable ways.

The Perfect Storm Scenario

It is predicted that by 2030 the world will need to produce around 50 per cent
more food and energy, together with 30 per cent more fresh water, whilst
mitigating and adapting to climate change (Source: BIS)

Nexus thinking

To meet this growing need for water, food and energy we can no longer deal with these issues separately, as they are often interlinked.

This interlocking relationship is known as the 'water-food-energy nexus'. Put simply, 'nexus thinking' recognises that any solution for one side of the nexus must equally consider the other two.

As an example, agriculture gives us the food that we need, yet it uses 70% of the world's fresh water. That water is also in demand by the energy sector to cool power stations, drive turbines and run hydroelectric plants. We also need water in our everyday life at home, which requires pumping to our taps and treating to make it drinkable, which in turn requires vast amounts of energy.

Another example is that as the world's demand for meat increases, yet more water is needed to grow the grain used to feed livestock. The International Fund for Agricultural Development believes it takes 13,000 to 15,000 litres of water to produce just one kilo of grain-fed beef.


"Any strategy that focuses on one part of the water-food-energy nexus without considering its interconnections risks serious unintended consequences.”

World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2011


The contribution of science and technology to the issues

According to Professor Beddington, science and technology must play a leading role in meeting increasing demand over the coming decades in a sustainable manner.

On food, he believes we need a new “greener revolution”. Important focus areas include:

  • crop improvement to increase yields and tolerance to stresses such as droughts
  • smarter use of water and fertilisers
  • new pesticides and their effective management to avoid resistance problems
  • introduction of novel non-chemical approaches to crop protection
  • reduction of post-harvest losses
  • more sustainable livestock and marine production

Techniques and technologies from many disciplines, ranging from biotechnology and engineering to newer fields such as nanotechnology, will be needed.

Managing and balancing supply and demand for water across sectors requires a range of policy and technological solutions. The efficiency of agricultural water use can be improved through the development of drought resistant crops, and the use of low-cost and efficient drip irrigation systems by small farms.

Solutions for water storage, such as underground reservoirs, will be needed, particularly in areas where climate is expected to radically alter river flow patterns through melting of glaciers and changes in precipitation. In the home, recycling of domestic ‘grey water’ will be needed to reduce consumption.

Meeting demand for energy while mitigating climate change will require a mix of behavioural change and technological solutions. Renewable, carbon capture and storage and nuclear energy technologies are the options to de-carbonise electricity generation – which the Climate Change Committee estimates must be largely achieved within around two decades. We will also need innovative technologies and processes to radically reduce emissions from transport, buildings and industry, and increase the efficiency of energy use throughout the economy.

Source: BIS and Professor John Beddington


This item was originally posted on IGD. To read the original news story, click here.