Implications of various land use change scenarios on global water scarcity over the 21st century

Monday, December 11, 2017 - 13:40
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While the effects of land use and land cover change (LULCC) on hydrological processes (e.g., runoff, peak flow and discharge) and water availability have been extensively researched, the impacts of LULCC on water scarcity has been rarely investigated. Water scarcity, usually defined as the ratio of water demand to available renewable water supply. The involved water demand is an important human-dimension factor, which is affected by both socio-economic conditions (e.g., population, income) as well as LULCC (e.g., the amount of land we dedicate for food, feed, and fuel crops). Recent studies have assessed the combined effects of climate change and human interventions (e.g., dams, water withdrawals and LULCC) on water scarcity, but none to date has focused on the implications of different pathways of LULCC alone on water scarcity. We establish a set of LULCC scenarios under changing climate and socioeconomic pathways using an integrated assessment model – Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM), which integrates natural systems (e.g., water supply, ecosystems, climate) and human systems (e.g., water demand, land use, economy, food, energy, population). The LULCC scenarios encompass varying degrees of protected areas, different magnitudes of crop/bioenergy production and subsidies, and whether to penalize potential land use emissions from bioenergy production (e.g., loss of wood carbon stock from land conversion). Then we investigate how water scarcity responds to LULCC and how the distribution of global population under severe water stress varies in the 21st century. Preliminary results indicate that the LULCC-induced changes in water scarcity are overall small at the global scale (<2%), but significant (5%-10%) in areas where LULCC is substantial (e.g., deforestation in South America and equatorial Africa). This study highlights the role of land use policies in determining the fate of water stress and population being affected. Findings from this research could be used to inform strategies focused on alleviating water stress around the world.

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