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Domestic water versus imported virtual blue water for agricultural production: A comparison based on energy consumption and related greenhouse gas emissions

Smolka, Georg; Kosatica, Ervin; Berger, Markus; Kissinger, Meidad; Fridman, Dor; Koellner, Thomas

The supply of water, food, and energy in our global economy is highly interlinked. Virtual blue water embedded into internationally traded food crops has therefore been extensively researched in recent years. This study focuses on the often neglected energy needed to supply this blue irrigation water. It provides a globally applicable and spatially explicit approach to the watershed level for water source specific quantification of energy consumption and related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of irrigation water supply. The approach is applied to Israel's total domestic and imported food crop supply of 105 crops by additionally including import‐related transportation energy and emissions. Total energy use and related emissions of domestic crop production were much lower (551 GWh/422 kt CO2‐equivalents [CO2e]) than those embedded into crop imports (1639 GWh/649 kt CO2e). Domestic energy and emissions were mainly attributable to the irrigation water supply with artificial water sources (treated domestic wastewater and desalinated water, 84%). Transport accounted for 79% and 66% of virtually imported energy and emissions, respectively. Despite transport, specific GHG emissions (CO2e per ton of crop) were significantly lower for several crops (e.g., olives, almonds, chickpeas) compared to domestic production. This could be attributed to the high share of energy‐intensive artificial water supply in combination with higher irrigation water demands in Israel. In the course of an increasing demand for artificial water supply in arid and semi‐arid regions, our findings point to the importance of including “energy for water” into comparative environmental assessment of crop supply to support decision‐making related to the water–energy–food nexus.
Published in: Journal of Industrial Ecology, 10.1111/jiec.13403, Wiley