Water footprint scenarios for 2050: a global analysis

Environ Int. 2014 Mar;64:71-82. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2013.11.019. Epub 2013 Dec 27.


This study develops water footprint scenarios for 2050 based on a number of drivers of change: population growth, economic growth, production/trade pattern, consumption pattern (dietary change, bioenergy use) and technological development. The objective the study is to understand the changes in the water footprint (WF) of production and consumption for possible futures by region and to elaborate the main drivers of this change. In addition, we assess virtual water flows between the regions of the world to show dependencies of regions on water resources in other regions under different possible futures. We constructed four scenarios, along two axes, representing two key dimensions of uncertainty: globalization versus regional selfsufficiency, and economy-driven development versus development driven by social and environmental objectives. The study shows how different drivers will change the level of water consumption and pollution globally in 2050. The presented scenarios can form a basis for a further assessment of how humanity can mitigate future freshwater scarcity. We showed with this study that reducing humanity's water footprint to sustainable levels is possible even with increasing populations, provided that consumption patterns change. This study can help to guide corrective policies at both national and international levels, and to set priorities for the years ahead in order to achieve sustainable and equitable use of the world's fresh water resources.

Keywords: Water consumption; Water demand; Water footprint; Water scenarios.

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Environmental Pollution
  • Fresh Water*
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Population Growth
  • Water Supply / analysis*