Which are the impacts of future limited water resources on bioenergy production, food consumption and prices, land-use change and the global economy? A study conducted by MIT researchers highlights the importance of improvements in irrigation efficiency and international trade in agricultural commodities. The research also identifies regions with a high potential to be severely influenced by future water shortages. Combining the MIT Integrated Global System Modeling (IGSM) framework with a water resource system (WRS) component that enables analyses at the scale of river basins, the model represents additional irrigable land in 282 river basins across the globe. Using the IGSM-WRS model, the researchers assessed the costs of expanding production in these areas through upgrades such as improving irrigation efficiency, lining canals to limit water loss, and expanding water storage capacity. They found that explicitly representing irrigated land had little impact on their projections of global food consumption and prices, bioenergy production, and the rate of deforestation under water scarcity. The impacts are minimal because in response to shortages, water can be used more efficiently through the aforementioned upgrades, and regions with relatively less water scarcity can expand agricultural production for export to more arid regions. Changes in water availability for agriculture of plus or minus 20 percent had little impact on global food prices, bioenergy production, land-use change and the global economy. Changes in water availability for agriculture can have significant impact at the regional level. In places where rainfall is relatively low and/or population growth is projected to outpace irrigation capacity and efficiency improvements, water shortages are more likely to limit irrigated cropland expansion, leading to lower crop production in those areas.
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