By Nick Nicholas
At the 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in November 2022, world leaders gathered in Egypt to announce climate action initiatives and the steps each one planned to take to reduce the impacts of climate change in their respective countries. Among the leaders in attendance was U.S. President Biden, who outlined his goals and desires to double down on climate commitments relating to the water, food, energy nexus.
After reviewing some of the COP27 highlights and the president’s goals, one question became clear: Will Biden’s COP27 goals be enough to curb the water, food, and energy nexus? Answering that question is only possible by first understanding the complexity of this nexus and the factors contributing to it.
Understanding The Water-Food-Energy Nexus
Water, food, and energy are necessary resources for life; they are also interdependent on one another, which is why a nexus exists. Here are the different ways these resources depend on each other:
- The relationship between water and energy: You need water to generate energy, and you need energy to supply water.
- The relationship between water and food: You need water to grow food, and you need food to transport virtual water.
- The relationship between food and energy: You need food as a way to produce energy, and you need energy to produce food.
The bad news is that these resources are incredibly stressed and strained. As these resources become increasingly scarce, they fail to support each other, leading to water scarcity, hunger, and power outages. And these issues lead to even more significant problems, like countries struggling with political instability and division.
How Climate Change And Population Growth Affect The Water-Food-Energy Nexus
With the water, food, energy nexus having such negative impacts on society, some may wonder why world leaders and everyday people aren’t taking steps to immediately eliminate the contributing factors. But the driving forces of the nexus are not so easy to address.
One primary factor contributing to the issue is climate change, which has increased the number of droughts for more than 100 years. Some regions have been doing better than others. Most of North and Central America, East Asia, and Europe have noticed decreased soil moisture, but in India and Africa, droughts are becoming a commonplace issue.
Additionally, according to the World Economic Forum, of the 30+ global risks evaluated and mentioned in their 2020 report, droughts ranked in the top 10 as most likely to happen and have the biggest impact. Water crises also ranked in the top 10, given that droughts affect water availability.
Do want to know the common thread potentially connecting these two extreme weather events? Climate change.
As climate disasters become increasingly severe, water availability fluctuates, and less water means less food and little access to energy sources. This situation can clearly be seen in India when it experienced one of its most severe droughts in 2016. The extreme weather event affected half of the country, with 91 reservoirs falling to their lowest point in 10 years, leaving residents to battle chronic water stress. Also, without water for cooling, India’s thermal power plants couldn’t operate, forcing people to live without electricity. Additionally, during this drought period, many farmers in India experienced crop failures, affecting access to food.
Still, the climate crisis isn’t the only factor putting stress on the water-food-energy nexus. Population growth is also adding pressure. An increasing global population coupled with changing diets and rapid urbanization have led to a growing demand for water, food, and energy. Fulfilling that demand has led to poor water management, agriculture practices that stress land, and energy sources that feed climate change — together, these elements limit the very resources the growing population desperately needs.
Will Biden’s COP27 Goals Help?
Decreasing pressure on the water-food-energy nexus is possible with the right solutions. Although it will take time to see progress, no matter what tactics are employed, world leaders can put society on the right track with the decisions they make. President Biden’s COP27 goals may be a part of those steps in the right direction. Below are the top COP 27 highlights from President Biden’s announcements and insight on whether they are enough.
1. Doubling Down on Global Climate Resilience
President Biden committed to doubling the White House’s contribution to the Adaptation Funding to $100 million. He also pledged to provide more than $140 million in new support to bolster the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE) initiatives across Africa. PREPARE is designed to financially support developing countries as they adapt to and manage the impacts of climate change. By supporting developing regions, the goal is to reduce the effects of climate change on the most vulnerable countries and communities in the world.
How will this COP27 goal help: Making a commitment to support adaptation and resilience is a great step toward helping developing countries combat climate change. If vulnerable regions can decrease the impact of climate change, it will be more realistic for them to increase water availability and also meet food and energy demands.
2. Reduce Methane Emissions
At COP27, President Biden announced a new initiative that will support Egypt in decommissioning 5 gigawatts (GW) of inefficient natural gas generation while deploying 10 GW of new alternative energy solutions such as hydrogen production and solid waste to energy systems. This climate action will bolster methane regulation in the oil and gas industry, lowering U.S. methane emissions from covered sources to 87% below 2005 levels.
How this COP27 goal will help: Energy security is inextricably linked to climate security, and focusing on methane will help ensure a better future in energy and the climate. Methane pollution permeates throughout the fossil fuel industry — every year, the sector produces 80 million tons of natural gas. But decreasing that number by shifting away from fossil fuels can significantly protect the climate while helping regions transition to renewable energy sources such as green Hydrogen production and advanced landfill solid waste gasification and pyrolysis waste to energy systems to get the energy they need.
3. Support Climate-Smart Food Systems
Another goal President Biden mentioned at COP27 was his desire to help developing communities and countries transition to climate-smart food systems by offering a minimum of $100 million in adaptation funding. The money will help increase infrastructure and expand critical initiatives working to reduce the impacts of climate change on food systems across the globe.
How will this COP27 goal help: Biden’s effort to help finance climate-smart food systems in developing countries and particularly in Africa, will increase the resiliency of today’s water, food, and agricultural systems in the face of climate change. The financing will give farmers and anyone in the food system supply chain the money they need to access tools and information to make climate-smart decisions that enhance their agriculture output without stressing water and energy.
Maintaining Progress To Implement Solutions To Address The Water-Food-Energy Nexus
While Biden’s COP27 goals are steps in the right direction toward relieving pressure on the water-food-energy nexus, the most important thing is implementation. The announcements Biden made have to happen for society to see progress. Otherwise, mitigating the effects of climate change to provide water, food, and energy to the growing population will not come to fruition. Fortunately, President Biden and other world leaders have already started taking steps to implement their COP27 goals, so that’s a good indicator that positive outcomes are on the horizon.