The linkage between water, energy and Climate Change raised its head at the 12th International Rivers Symposium in Brisbane September 09. Thank you to Bernard Eddy of AWN for providing some thought provoking leads.
Julia Imrie of Rivers SOS wrote the following succinct precis of a discussion relevant to the proposed new coal/gas fired power stations in the Hunter and at Lithgow.
“This compelling session was on the complex linkages between water, energy and climate change. Energy can require vast quantities of water and water supplies can require significant amounts of energy. Energy production is a major driver of climate change and conversely climate change will have a major impact on water systems and resources – both quantity and quality.
We cannot afford to continue to promote energy solutions at the expense of water. We cannot ignore the long term availability or future water yield and how this may eventually restrict the capacity of water dependent generators (both hydro and coal fired). Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is estimated to increase water use in power stations by around 18% – a dry cooled coal fired power station produces 5 % more CO2. A water storage dam releases significant amounts of methane and will potentially lose greater amounts of water with a warming climate.
The mining of coal and coal seam gas (CSG) consumes water and can interfere and degrade valuable groundwater resources. Carbon sequestration in forests can reduce surface water runoff into rivers and dams!
The dialogue centred on how as a society do we develop secure and environmentally sustainable supplies of both water and energy? How do we embed sustainability principles in water- energy production and planning?
Current policy-making tends to takes a ‘silo based’ approach developing ‘solutions’ in isolation that often result in perverse conflicts that further exacerbate the energy-water nexus. The disequilibrium between energy and water in terms of policy, price and perception needs addressing – we need a ‘common currency’ or ‘language’ that will communicate across sectors. Recommendations included further research to clearly identify the drivers, long term costs, externalities and future restraints. To undertake a national study to analyse ‘whole of water cycle’ and ‘whole of energy cycle’ to fully identify energy and water footprints over the long term, and assist in the development of national standards, benchmarks and ‘better-practice’ initiatives.
Discussion highlighted the urgent need for policymakers to recognise this nexus, to facilitate co-ordination and integration between the water and energy sectors and between related sectors such as mining, agriculture, forestry and trade.
The immediate challenge is for governments to incorporate climate-energy-water interactions into existing planning processes and management strategies.”
This provocative new study – prepared by two Nobel prize winning economics Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen for the French President, has proposed ways of improving our measurement of economic performance and social progress.
Nytimes.com reports that the pair urges
“incorporating a broader concern for human welfare than just economic growth. By their reckoning, much of the contemporary economic disaster owes to the misbegotten assumption that policymakers simply had to focus on nurturing growth, trusting that this would maximize prosperity for all.”
Following this report the SMH’s Ross Gittins observes that growth was overstated because no account was taken of the environmental costs of that growth – the depletion of natural resources and the generation of ecologically damaging wastes, such as greenhouse gases.
The Stiglitz-Sen study says:
“Measuring and assessing sustainability – the ability for at least the present level of wellbeing to be maintained for future generations – is a central concern, which should be considered separately from measures of present wellbeing. The environmental aspects of sustainability deserve a separate follow-up based on a well-chosen set of physical indicators. … There is a need for a clear indicator of our proximity to dangerous levels of environmental damage (such as associated with climate change or the depletion of fishing stocks),”
It seems our current systems do not allow us to even attempt to balance the socio-cultural, economic, environmental and governance elements in one issue. The question Bernard Eddy poses is…do we need a radical rethink?