Water competition between cities and agriculture driven by climate change and urban growth

Urban water demand will increase by 80% by 2050, while climate change will alter the timing and distribution of water. Here we quantify the magnitude of these twin challenges to urban water security, combining a dataset of urban water sources of 482 of the world’s largest cities with estimates of future water demand, based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment scenarios, and predictions of future water availability, using the WaterGAP3 modelling framework. We project an urban surface-water deficit of 1,386–6,764 million m³. More than 27% of cities studied, containing 233 million people, will have water demands that exceed surface-water availability. An additional 19% of cities, which are dependent on surface-water transfers, have a high potential for conflict between the urban and agricultural sectors, since both sectors cannot obtain their estimated future water demands. In 80% of these high-conflict watersheds, improvements in agricultural wateruse efficiency could free up enough water for urban use. Investments in improving agricultural water use could thus serve as an important global change adaptation strategy.

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