The planetary water drama: Dual task of feeding humanity and curbing climate change

Author(s): Rockström, J., Falkenmark, M., Lannerstad, M., Karlberg, L.
In: Geophysical Research Letters
Year: 2012
Type: Journal / article
Link to centre authors: Falkenmark, Malin, Rockström, Johan
Full reference: Rockström, J., M. Falkenmark, M. Lannerstad, and L. Karlberg (2012), The planetary water drama: Dual task of feeding humanity and curbing climate change, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L14403, doi:10.1029/2012GL051688


This paper analyses the potential conflict between resilience of the Earth system and global freshwater requirements for the dual task of carbon sequestration to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, and food production to feed humanity by 2050. It makes an attempt to assess the order of magnitude of the increased consumptive water use involved and analyses the implications as seen from two parallel perspectives; the global perspective of human development within a “safe operating space” with regard to the definition of the Planetary Boundary for freshwater; and the socialecological implications at the regional river basin scale in terms of sharpening water shortages and threats to aquatic ecosystems.

The paper shows that the consumptive water use involved in the dual task would both transgress the proposed planetary boundary range for global consumptive freshwater use and would further exacerbate already severe river depletion, causing societal problems related to water shortage and water allocation. Thus, strategies to rely on sequestration of CO2 as a mitigation strategy must recognize the high freshwater costs involved, implying that the key climate mitigation strategy must be to reduce emissions. The paper finally highlights the need to analyze both water and carbon tradeoffs from anticipated large scale biofuel production climate change mitigation strategy, to reveal gains and impact of this in contrast to carbon sequestration strategies.

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