Energy-water-food stress nexus


What’s the challenge?

The world’s water, energy and food systems are tightly linked. Water is needed to extract energy and generate power; energy is needed to treat and transport water; and both water and energy are needed to grow food. In the coming decades, this relationship, known as the energy-water-food nexus will come under great pressure and is appearing on the agendas of governments, NGOs and businesses. How can we manage our valuable resources?

The nexus

Water, food and energy are interconnected: agriculture accounts for about 70% of global freshwater use and can pollute freshwater supplies if mismanaged. Water is also used to generate electricity: in the USA, power generation accounts for about 50% of all freshwater withdrawals and drought in countries that use hydropower — Ethiopia and Ghana, for example — can lead to black-outs. Energy, in turn, is needed to fertilise and transport crops, which can themselves be used as biofuel to create energy. Large amounts of energy are also required to pump water to drier regions and, as water scarcity increases, so will the energy needed for technologies such as desalination.

More than 9 billion people are expected to live on Earth by 2050, up from 7 billion today. Asia’s fast-growing cities will absorb much of this growth, with three in four people living in urban centres. As living standards improve, many will move out of poverty and gain access to energy, buying their first refrigerators, computers or cars. Yet, there is a paradox. The world’s growing prosperity may undermine the benefits that this prosperity brings. Meeting the needs of a growing population and rising middle class will put stress on the world’s energy, water and food supplies.

Panel discussion

The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) held a panel discussion on 5 December 2012 to discuss the issue.

Tim Brown, CEO, IDEO
Tim Brown is the CEO of IDEO, a global innovation and design firm.Ranked independently among the twenty most innovative companies in the world, IDEO is a design consultancy that contributed to such standard-setting innovations as the first mouse for Apple, the Palm V, and Bank of America’s “Keep the Change” service.

In addition to the design of new offerings for the world’s leading brands, IDEO’s work addresses emerging themes such as sustainability, the design of communities, health and wellness, and enterprise for people in the world’s lower income groups.

Tim is a leading voice on the value of design thinking in business and society. In 2009 Tim wrote the book Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. His ideas and experience are widely sought in industry, academia, and the nonprofit community. He participates in the World Economic Forum at Davos and gave the plenary in 2006. Tim advises senior executives of Fortune 500 companies and serves on the Board of Trustees for the California College of the Arts, the Mayo Innovation Advisory Council, and the Advisory Council of Acumen Fund, a not-for-profit global venture fund focused on improving the lives of the poor.

Tim has led strategic client relationships with such companies as Sony,Microsoft, Motorola, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, and Steelcase. An industrial designer by training, his own work has earned him numerous design awards and has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York,Axis Gallery in Tokyo, and the Design Museum in London.

Tim has a special interest in the convergence of technology and the arts, as well as the ways in which design can be used to promote the well being of people living in emerging economies. Tim joined IDEO in 1987 after earning his MA in design from the Royal College of Art in London. He managed IDEO’s San Francisco office from 1990 to 1995, and headed IDEO Europe from 1995 to 2000.



Jeremy Bentham, Vice President Global Business Environment, Royal Dutch Shell
Jeremy has been in the energy business for 28 years. He is a graduate of Oxford University where he read physics. He joined Shell in 1980 following post-graduate experience at the California Institute of Technology. He also holds a masters degree in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was a Sloan Fellow from 1990 to 1991.

Following experience in both research and technology process design, Jeremy worked in the areas of manufacturing economics, industry analysis and commercial information technology. He then held line management positions coordinating commercial and production activities at a number of refinery facilities. Subsequently he became manager of corporate strategy analysis within the Corporate Centre of the Shell Group, and then led a strategic project for Shell’s Exploration and Production Business.

Jeremy joined the leadership team of Shell’s global commercial technology company, Shell Global Solutions in 1999, with specific responsibility for commercial and strategic developments including new business. He was subsequently appointed as chief executive of Shell Hydrogen. Since January 2006 he has been responsible for Shell’s Global Business Environment team, which is best known for developing forward-looking scenarios to support strategic thinking and direction-setting.



Professor Kevin Noone, Director of the Swedish Secretariat for Environmental Earth System Sciences
Kevin Noone is Director of the Swedish Secretariat for Environmental Earth System Sciences (SSEESS) at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, is Professor of Meteorology at the Department of Applied Environmental Science at Stockholm University, and is affiliated with the Stockholm Resilience Centre. From 2004-2008 he was the Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP). He has a background in Chemical Engineering, and Civil and Environmental Engineering, Oceanography, Meteorology, and Atmospheric Physics. He has been on the faculty at both Stockholm University in Sweden and the University of Rhode Island in the U.S.

Early research work in Chemical Engineering focused on transparent semiconductors for use as solar cells. His primary research interests at present are in the area of atmospheric chemistry & physics, the effects of aerosols and clouds on air quality and the Earth’s climate, and global sustainability. He is an advocate of using holistic approaches to obtaining a solid scientific basis for decisions on environmental and climate issues. He is author/coauthor of more than 120 scientific articles and 10 book chapters.

Kevin has headed up of a number of large international field experiments, and is (or has been) a member of a number of international committees and boards. Currently he chairs the European Academies Science Advisory Council’s Environment Steering Panel, is vice-chair of the International Group of Funding Agencies (IGFA), and is a member of the Transdisciplinary Advisory Board for the European Joint Programming Initiative on Climate. Kevin is active in conveying science to stakeholders and the general public. He regularly gives presentations and short courses on climate and sustainability issues for non-science audiences.