Todayʼs virtual water consumption and trade under future water scarcity

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Todayʼs virtual water consumption and trade under future water scarcity
by Orlowsky et al. (2014)

The populations of most nations consume products of both domestic and foreign origin, importing together with the products the water which is expended abroad for their production (termed 'virtual water'). Therefore, any investigation of the sustainability of present-day water consumption under future climate change needs to consider the effects of potentially reduced water availability both on domestic water resources and on the trades of virtual water. Here we use combinations of Global Climate and Global Impact Models from the ISI-MIP ensemble to derive patterns of future water availability under the RCP2.6 and RCP8.5 greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations scenarios. We assess the effects of reduced water availability in these scenarios on national water consumptions and virtual water trades through a simple accounting scheme based on the water footprint concept. We thereby identify countries where the water footprint within the country area is reduced due to a reduced within-area water availability, most prominently in the Mediterranean and some African countries. National water consumption in countries such as Russia, which are non-water scarce by themselves, can be affected through reduced imports from water scarce countries. We find overall stronger effects of the higher GHG concentrations scenario, although the model range of climate projections for single GHG concentrations scenarios is in itself larger than the differences induced by the GHG concentrations scenarios. Our results highlight that, for both investigated GHG concentration scenarios, the current water consumption and virtual water trades cannot be sustained into the future due to the projected patterns of reduced water availability.

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