There have been many concerns about water as a constraint to agricultural production, electricity generation, and many other human activities in the coming decades. Nevertheless, how different countries/economies would respond to such constraints has not been explored. Here, we examine the responding mechanism of binding water availability constraints at the water basin level and across a wide range of socioeconomic, climate and energy technology scenarios. Specifically, we look at the change in water withdrawals between energy, land-use and other sectors within an integrated framework, by using the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM) that also endogenizes water use and allocation decisions based on costs.
We find that, when water is taken into account as part of the production decision-making, countries/basins in general fall into three different categories, depending on the change of water withdrawals and water re-allocation between sectors. First, water is not a constraining factor for most of the basins. Second, advancements in water-saving technologies of the electricity generation cooling systems are sufficient of reducing water withdrawals to meet binding water availability constraints, such as in China and the EU-15. Third, water-saving in the electricity sector alone is not sufficient and thus cannot make up the lowered water availability from the binding case; for example, many basins in Pakistan, Middle East and India have to largely reduce irrigated water withdrawals by either switching to rain-fed agriculture or reducing production. The dominant responding strategy for individual countries/basins is quite robust across the range of alternate scenarios that we test. The relative size of water withdrawals between energy and agriculture sectors is one of the most important factors that affect the dominant mechanism.