Some weeks ago I gave a speech in Naters in the Swiss Alps – a meeting organised by the Committee of the UNESCO Natural Heritage site Jungfrau-Aletsch.
Water is essential for the Jungfrau-Aletsch region – for daily life, for agriculture, for nature and, as a consequence, for tourism. Dams used for hydropower are particularly important – in many valleys they were the starting point for communities moving out of poverty during the 20th century, whilst also reducing the risk of floods and stabilising the water flows.
In the discussion, one speaker on the panel made it clear that this form of generation of electrical energy is at risk today.
What he said is that actually hydropower, from the dams in the alps and elsewhere, is far superior to any other form of energy, if you look at both the environmental impact, the overall externalities, the energy conversion efficiency and also the possibilities of energy storage and easy access to the energy when you need it (i.e. providing peak energy at any point in time). But recently, the market for electricity has been flooded with a surplus of solar and wind power -- relatively unreliable, but highly subsidised. With actual production costs between 20 and 50 Swiss cents, it is sold at some 4.5 to 5 Swiss cents. It does not need large amounts of such heavily subsidised energy to massively distort markets through low marginal prices and therefore hydropower is crowded out. New dams that are urgently needed cannot be built while some existing dams have difficulties to cover the variable cost. He fears that present policies and the kind of subsidies outlined will drive the best possible form of renewable energy, namely hydropower, against a wall.
Is this something that also happens elsewhere in Europe? Your comments and ideas on how to address this would be most welcome.
As I have written about previously in this blog, the use of water, one of our basic human needs, has been growing vastly in the last century. It is predicted that over the next 20 years, the world’s thirst for water will grow by 50%. By 2030, water withdrawals will exceed natural renewals by 60%. Water overuse and scarcity are becoming critical issues in the new millennium at both global and regional levels.
Up to now, water overuse was at the expense of the environment. But as the gap increases rapidly, water shortage risks having an immediate impact on agricultural production, given the fact that 90% of fresh water used globally is for irrigation to grow the food we eat. With the current trends in population and economic growth affecting water needs for all kind of activities, this could result in global shortfalls of up to 30% in cereal production by 2025. There is no doubt that we are facing a great challenge as to how we will be able to feed the world’s population in the near future.
25 June 2013
Water, Water-Food-Energy Nexus, InterAction Council
InterAction Council – 31st Annual Plenary Meeting, 9-11 May 2013
Last month I had the honour of joining the InterAction Council in its 31st Annual Plenary Meeting as an Associate Member. A large part of the discussion was on the Water-Food-Energy Nexus, leading to very clear conclusions and recommendations, also on some politically delicate issues. You can find these recommendations in the second part of my post – your comments and ideas on these would be most welcome.
Readers of my blog will recall that it was my privilege last month to chair a discussion on the post-2015 development agenda, Water Resources Management, and the role the private sector can play. The discussion also explored how the Millennium Development Goals can be combined with the Sustainable Development Goals.
As I wrote at the time, the event, organized by the 2030 Water Resources Group at the World Bank headquarters in Washington DC during the Annual World Bank and IMF Meetings, brought together more than 40 senior stakeholders from governments, UN, multi- and inter-Governmental organisations, the private sector and NGOs to participate in the roundtable discussions. Michael Anderson, Director, DFID and Special Envoy to UK Prime Minister Cameron, Sirodjidin Aslov, Ambassador of the Republic of Tajikistan to the UN, De Lyle Bloomquist from Tata Chemicals Limited, my long-time friend Maggie Catley Carlson, Member of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water & Sanitation, Mahmoud Mohieldin, the World Bank’s President’s Special Envoy, and Thomas Stelzer, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs were the panelist for this half-day event.