Recent studies have highlighted the reliance of global food production on unsustainable irrigation practices, which deplete freshwater stocks and environmental flows, and consequently impair aquatic ecosystems. Unsustainable irrigation is driven by domestic and international demand for agricultural products. Research on the environmental consequences of trade has often concentrated on the global displacement of pollution and land use, while the effect of trade on water sustainability and the drying of over-depleted watercourses has seldom been recognized and quantified. Here we evaluate unsustainable irrigation water consumption (UWC) associated with global crop production and determine the share of UWC embedded in international trade. We find that, while about 52% of global irrigation is unsustainable, 15% of it is virtually exported, with an average 18% increase between year 2000 and 2015. About 60% of global virtual transfers of UWC are driven by exports of cotton, sugar cane, fruits, and vegetables. One third of UWC in Mexico, Spain, Turkmenistan, South Africa, Morocco, and Australia is associated with demand from the export markets. The globalization of water through trade contributes to running rivers dry, an environmental externality commonly overlooked by trade policies. By identifying the producing and consuming countries that are responsible for unsustainable irrigation embedded in virtual water trade, this study highlights trade links in which policies are needed to achieve sustainable water and food security goals in the coming decades.

Global unsustainable virtual water flows in agricultural trade

Chiarelli, Davide Danilo;Rulli, Maria Cristina;
2019-01-01

Abstract

Recent studies have highlighted the reliance of global food production on unsustainable irrigation practices, which deplete freshwater stocks and environmental flows, and consequently impair aquatic ecosystems. Unsustainable irrigation is driven by domestic and international demand for agricultural products. Research on the environmental consequences of trade has often concentrated on the global displacement of pollution and land use, while the effect of trade on water sustainability and the drying of over-depleted watercourses has seldom been recognized and quantified. Here we evaluate unsustainable irrigation water consumption (UWC) associated with global crop production and determine the share of UWC embedded in international trade. We find that, while about 52% of global irrigation is unsustainable, 15% of it is virtually exported, with an average 18% increase between year 2000 and 2015. About 60% of global virtual transfers of UWC are driven by exports of cotton, sugar cane, fruits, and vegetables. One third of UWC in Mexico, Spain, Turkmenistan, South Africa, Morocco, and Australia is associated with demand from the export markets. The globalization of water through trade contributes to running rivers dry, an environmental externality commonly overlooked by trade policies. By identifying the producing and consuming countries that are responsible for unsustainable irrigation embedded in virtual water trade, this study highlights trade links in which policies are needed to achieve sustainable water and food security goals in the coming decades.
hydrology; virtual water trade; irrigation; groundwater depletion; environmental flows,GROUNDWATER DEPLETION; IRRIGATION; WITHDRAWAL; TRANSFERS; AQUIFERS; NEXUS; OIL
File in questo prodotto:
File Dimensione Formato  
2019__Environ._Res._Lett._Rosa et al.pdf

accesso aperto

: Publisher’s version
Dimensione 1.9 MB
Formato Adobe PDF
1.9 MB Adobe PDF Visualizza/Apri

I documenti in IRIS sono protetti da copyright e tutti i diritti sono riservati, salvo diversa indicazione.

Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11311/1130920
Citazioni
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.pmc??? ND
  • Scopus 70
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.isi??? 68
social impact