Nexus of Water-Food-Energy Goals


Water, Food, and Energy (W-F-E) are three important and closely interrelated areas under three separate goals (Goal 6, Goal 2 and Goal 7, respectively) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Achieving these goals are central to ensuring the security of the three basic needs they represent, for poverty eradication, and for realising sustainable development. Often countries have separate ministries to undertake policy and actions on various aspects of water, food, and energy. Those ministries implement their policies, strategies and action plans in a compartmentalised fashion, and have limited interactions with each others. Continuing with such a business-as-usual approach to implementing these three goals by ignoring intrinsic linkages could involve huge trade-offs. However, adopting a coordinated approach could maximise synergies and lead to the effective use of available resources. It is time that respective ministries, especially in Asian countries, engage themselves to identify the potential impacts of their future action plans and programmes on these goals.

Realising that countries in Asia have yet to fully understand the importance of close coordination and co-execution of food-water-energy goals, IGES has embarked on identifying and suggesting pragmatic policy measures to implement these triple goals in an effective manner. SDGs are a target-based approach by design, so knowing the current status of each target is an absolute necessity for making a headway in that direction. It is quite challenging for countries to compile all the target-specific data, as available statistical data does not always match with the kind of data required to measure the state and progress of each target. In such situations, it is worthwhile to scan the available data and try to relate to the targets and their proposed indicators.
Against this backdrop, IGES has been analysing available data to address following research questions:

  • What are currently available data that could be used to monitor progress on W-F-E goals?
  • What are additional data requirements to monitor all targets?
  • What should be the minimum dataset to monitor the three goals so that countries can co-implement and co-monitor W-F-E goals effectively?

Japan as a Case Study

Japan has been selected as a case study country for this study. Basic access to food, water and energy is not a significant issue here. Despite a better status on access issues, food, water and energy are three important security concerns for Japan. Japan is a net importer of food and energy. According to the data from the Statistical Bureau, except rice, Japan is not self-sufficient in major food items (self-sufficiency rates in 2012 were 12% for wheat, 38% fruits, 78% in vegetables and 55% in meat). Japan imported 92% of its energy in 2013. Reducing dependency on food and energy is in the long-term interest of the country.

Japan is relatively rich in water resources as it receives amongst the highest rainfall and its water-related infrastructures are well-developed. However, Japan is not immune to water scarcity, water-related disasters, and other water challenges. Long-term observation has shown that in some regions the amount of precipitation has been steadily decreasing over the past 100 years . Any alteration in water supply could seriously affect the densely populated cities and a large number of industries. Besides these concerns, Japan’s overall resource footprint is relatively higher than those observed in other developing countries in Asia. With this background, it is important to examine how a developed country like Japan could prioritise SDG targets for the three goals and pursue a synergistic approach to implementation not only to ensure food-water-energy security but also aim to transform to a low resource footprint society by 2030.

W-F-E nexus in Japan

W-F-E nexus is not new to Japan, although it has yet to be embraced as a policy tool for co-managing these three resources. In terms of food production and consumption, Japan’s annual total blue water footprint was over 8,000 million ㎥/yr (average of 1996-2005) (Figure 1). Of that, nearly 83% of the blue water footprint was associated with imports of agricultural products. This aspect is important in terms of total national water savings that would have been otherwise required for producing the food domestically. For energy production, Japan has one of the lowest total water consumption rates for energy production (< 400 million ㎥/year in 2008) . The low water use for energy production is due to efficient energy production, high water recycle rate and the use of seawater instead of freshwater.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Blue Water Footprint of consumption of agriculture products in Japan

There is also a close relationship between energy and water services. Energy use in the sewerage system and water supply was estimated to be 1.012 kWh/㎥ in 2008 . Based on this energy consumption rate, total energy use for providing water services for domestic use, which was approximately 16.2 billion m³ (2004), could be grossly estimated to be 16.39 billion kWh. This amount of energy is over 1.6% of the total 1010.2 billion kWh electricity use in 2004. If energy use for irrigation, the food and beverage industry, and industrial water uses were considered, then the share of energy requirements could be significantly higher.

Japan is not immune to water risks. A global assessment has ranked several regions in Japan as between low-to-medium and medium-to-high water risk both for electric power production and agriculture (Figure 2). For instance, Japan has already suffered damage to rice production due to meteorological disasters. The trend clearly shows that the damage has been gradually increasing over time (Figure 3). The magnitude of such damage could further widen in the future as the impacts of climate change increase meteorological hazards.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Overall water-related risk on electric power and agriculture in Japan
Figure 3
Figure 3: Meteorological damage to paddy rice in Japan (1958-2014)

The above illustration of the facts indicates an opportunity for Japan to reduce its agricultural water footprint not only domestically but also internationally by carefully reviewing policies on food production, import, storage, consumption and disposal. This should be considered in line with a need to adopt a low resource lifestyle such as balancing calorific intake to avoid obesity-related health problems and reducing food wastage. There are two potential implications on managing the water-energy nexus.

The first is to adopt renewable energy sources with low or zero water footprints such as solar photovoltaic or wind energy, and through the use of wastewater-to-energy production systems. Second, Japan could transfer its technologies of water recycling and the use of seawater in thermal power production to those developing countries in Asia where water scarcity is affecting power production. For water services, there are still opportunities to embrace 3Rs (reduce, recycle, reuse) measures in various uses such as water supply and wastewater treatment. Similarly, energy efficiency measures have to be adopted in the advanced treatment process such as the use of membrane filtration to produce high-quality water and desalination facilities being operated in water-scarce cities.

In the present state, the data collected and reported by the Statistics Bureau of Japan do not align well with the majority of the data requirements for the indicators of the W-F-E goals of the SDGs. There is a need to develop country-specific indicators to monitor the targets of W-F-E goals with a nexus perspective. For that purpose, close collaboration between the ministries dealing with water, energy and agriculture is necessary to identify practical indicators to access the progress towards the co-implementation of W-F-E goals. IGES expects to contribute to the development of scenarios for synergistic implementation of the goals and indicators to monitor the progress of targets of the W-F-E goals.