21 March 2014, News Wires – Rising demand for energy, from biofuels to shale gas, is a threat to freshwater supplies that are already under strain from climate change, the United Nations said in a report on Friday.
“Demand for energy and freshwater will increase significantly in the coming decades,” UN agencies said in the World Water Development Report.
“This increase will present big challenges and strain resources in nearly all regions.”
The report urged energy companies to do more to limit their use of water, noting that by 2030, the world will need 40% more water and 50% more energy than now.
Water is under pressure from factors such as a rising population, pollution and droughts, floods and heatwaves linked to global warming, Reuters reported.
Around the world, about 770 million of the world’s 7 billion people now lack access to safe drinking water, according to the report, and the energy sector accounts for about 15% of water withdrawals from sources such as rivers, lakes and aquifers.
“This interdependence calls for vastly improved cooperation” between water and energy, said Irina Bokova, Director-General of UN Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization.
The report lamented the lack of influence of the water sector compared to what it called the “great political clout” of energy.
All energy production used water, often as a coolant, it said. Least water was used in wind and solar power, while heavy users included hydraulic fracking to produce shale gas or the extraction of oil from tar sands.
Zafar Adeel, head of the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment & Health, said that governments should re-think subsidies for both energy and water.
“Pricing water is much more challenging” than energy, Reuters quoted him telling a telephone news briefing.
The UN General Assembly declared water a human right in 2010, strengthening arguments that basic supplies should be free.
Energy companies say they try to limit water use. Exxon Mobil, for instance, said that net freshwater consumption at its operations fell 11% to 2.1 billion barrels in 2012 from 2011.
The UN study said there were examples where energy could successfully recycle water. In Stockholm, buses and taxes run on biogas produced from waste water, which is rich in methane.
A draft report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due for release on 29 March, says that global warming will disrupt water supplies, especially in developing nations, with damaging impacts from food to health.