Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Climate and southern Africa's water–energy–food nexus

Abstract

In southern Africa, the connections between climate and the water–energy–food nexus are strong. Physical and socioeconomic exposure to climate is high in many areas and in crucial economic sectors. Spatial interdependence is also high, driven, for example, by the regional extent of many climate anomalies and river basins and aquifers that span national boundaries. There is now strong evidence of the effects of individual climate anomalies, but associations between national rainfall and gross domestic product and crop production remain relatively weak. The majority of climate models project decreases in annual precipitation for southern Africa, typically by as much as 20% by the 2080s. Impact models suggest these changes would propagate into reduced water availability and crop yields. Recognition of spatial and sectoral interdependencies should inform policies, institutions and investments for enhancing water, energy and food security. Three key political and economic instruments could be strengthened for this purpose: the Southern African Development Community, the Southern African Power Pool and trade of agricultural products amounting to significant transfers of embedded water.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Average annual total precipitation (1961–1990) and multimodel ensembles of projected changes in national average annual precipitation (as a fraction of 1961–1990 mean) and national average annual mean temperature (°C change from 1961–1990 mean).
Figure 2: Modified version of the nexus framework of Hoff11 integrating global drivers with fields of action, to illustrate the main timescales of climate as a driver in southern Africa.
Figure 3: National rainfall variability and socioeconomic exposure to hydroclimate.
Figure 4: Rainfall and sea surface temperature; Kendall's tau correlations.
Figure 5: Simulated climate change impacts on rainfed and irrigated maize yield in the top five producing countries of southern Africa for the near, medium and long time horizon under Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5.
Figure 6: Water resources transfers (km3) through food trade in 2007.

References

  1. 1

    Vörösmarty, C. J., Douglas, E. M., Green, P. A. & Revenga, C. Geospatial indicators of emerging water stress: An application to Africa. Ambio 34, 230–236 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    SADC Statistics Yearbook 2011 (SADC, 2012); http://www.sadc.int/information-services/sadc-statistics/sadc-statiyearbook/#Population

  3. 3

    Jury, M. J. Economic impacts of climate variability in South Africa. J. Appl. Meteorol. Climatol. 41, 46–55 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Thurlow, J., Diao, X. & Zhu, T. Current climate variability and future climate change: Estimated growth and poverty impacts for Zambia. Rev. Dev. Econ. 16, 394–411 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Ellis, J. in Living with Uncertainty (ed. Scoones, I.) 37–46 (International Institute for Environment and Development, 1995).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Lankford, B. & Beale, T. Equilibrium and non-equilibrium theories of sustainable water resources management: Dynamic river basin and irrigation behaviour in Tanzania. Glob. Environ. Change 17, 168–180 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Sarch, M. T. & Allison, E. H. in Proc. Microbehavior, Macroresults and Externalities: Conceptual Issues 1–10 (IIFET, 2000); http://oregonstate.edu/dept/IIFET/2000/papers/sarch.pdf

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    O'Brien, K. & Vogel, C. Coping with Climate Variability: The use of Seasonal Climate Forecasts in Southern Africa (Ashgate, 2003).

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Ziervogel, G., Johnston, P., Matthew, M. & Mukheiber, P. Using climate information for supporting climate change adaptation in water resource management in South Africa. Clim. Change 103, 537–554 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    IPCC Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

  11. 11

    Hoff, H. Understanding the nexus: Background Paper for the Bonn2011 Conference: The Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus. (Stockholm Environment Institute, 2011).

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Bazillian, M. et al. Considering the energy, water and food nexus: Towards an integrated modelling approach. Energ. Policy 39, 7896–7906 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Bartram, J. & Dodds, F. (eds) Building Integrated Approaches into the Sustainable Development Goals (Univ. North Carolina, 2014).

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Global Risks 2011 6th edn (World Economic Forum, 2011).

  15. 15

    Hepworth, N. & Orr, S. in Water Security: Principles, Perspectives and Practices (eds Lankford, B. A., Bakker, K., Zeitoun, M. & Conway, D.) 220–238 (Earthscan, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Wales, A. Making sustainable beer. Nature Clim. Change 4, 316–318 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Gerbens-Leenes, P. W., Van Lienden, A. R., Hoekstra, A. Y. & van der Meer, T. H. Biofuel scenarios in a water perspective: The global blue and green water footprint of road transport in 2030. Glob. Environ. Change 22, 764–775 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Ringler, C., Bhaduri, A. & Lawford, R. The nexus across water, energy, land and food (WELF): Potential for improved resource use efficiency? Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 5, 617–624 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Howells, M. et al. Integrated analysis of climate change, land-use, energy and water strategies. Nature Clim. Change 3, 621–626 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Peronne, D. & Hamburger, G. M. Water, food, and energy security: Scrambling for resources or solutions? WIREs Water 1, 49–68 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Prasad, G. Energy, Water and Climate Change in Southern Africa: What Are the Issues That Need Further Investment and Research? (Energy Research Centre, Univ. Cape Town, 2012).

    Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    OECD Economic Surveys: South Africa 2013 (OECD, 2013); http://www.oecd.org/eco/surveys/South%20Africa%202013%20Overview%20FINAL.pdf

  23. 23

    Prasad, G., Stone, A., Hughes, A. & Stewart, T. in Towards Carnegie III Conf. (Univ. Cape Town, 2012); https://www.environment.gov.za/sites/default/files/docs/towardsthedevelopment_energywaterfoodsecurity.pdf

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Martin, B. & Fischer, R. The Energy-Water Nexus: Energy Demands on Water Resources Report 5 (EMG Water and Climate Change Research Series, Environmental Monitoring Group, 2012).

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Sparks, D. et al. Renewable energy choices and their water requirements in South Africa. J. Energy South. Afr. 25, 80–92 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Raskin, P., Gleick, P. Kirshen, P., Pontius, G. & Strzepek, K. in Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World (Stockholm Environment Institute,1997).

    Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Savenije, H. H. Water scarcity indicators: The deception of the numbers. Phys. Chem. Earth 25, 199–204 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Mason, N. in Water Security: Principles, Perspectives and Practices (eds Lankford, B. A., Bakker, K., Zeitoun, M. & Conway, D.) 183–203 (Earthscan, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Misselhorn, A. A. What drives food insecurity in southern Africa? A meta-analysis of household economy studies. Glob. Environ. Change 15, 33–43 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Ellis, F. & Manda, E. Seasonal food crises and policy responses: A narrative account of three food security crises in Malawi. World Dev. 40, 1407–1417 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31

    Peel, M. C., McMahon, T. A. & Finlayson, B. L. Continental differences in the variability of annual runoff: Update and reassessment. J. Hydrol. 295, 185–197 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32

    Conway, D. et al. Rainfall and water resources variability in sub-Saharan Africa during the twentieth century. J. Hydrometeorol. 10, 41–59 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33

    Kane, R. P. Periodicities, ENSO effects and trends of some South African rainfall series: An update. S. Afr. J. Sci. 105, 199–207 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  34. 34

    Barrios, S., Ouattara, B. & Strobl, E. The impact of climatic change on agricultural production: Is it different for Africa? Food Policy 33, 287–298 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35

    Brown, C. et al. Hydroclimate risk to economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa. Clim. Change 106, 621–647 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36

    Nyatsanza, F. F., Graas, S. & Zaag, P. The impact of dynamic environmental flow releases on hydropower production in the Zambezi River Basin. J. Am. Water Resour. As. 51, 1029–1042 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37

    Scott, A., Darko, E., Lemma, A. & Rud, J. P. How Does Electricity Insecurity Affect Businesses in Low and Middle Income Countries? (Overseas Development Institute, 2014).

    Google Scholar 

  38. 38

    Beilfuss, R. A Risky Climate for Southern African Hydro: Assessing Hydrological Risks and Consequences for Zambezi River Basin Dams (International Rivers, 2012).

    Google Scholar 

  39. 39

    Noel, S. The Economics of Climate Change: Tanzania Water Resources (Stockholm Environment Institute, SEI-Africa Centre and Institute of Resource Assessment, Univ. Dar es Salaam).

  40. 40

    Landman, W. A., DeWitt, D., Lee, D. E., Beraki, A. & Lötter, D. Seasonal rainfall prediction skill over South Africa: One- versus two-tiered forecasting systems. Weather Forecast. 27, 489–501 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41

    Landman, W. A. & Beraki, A. Multi-model forecast skill for mid-summer rainfall over southern Africa. Int. J. Climatol. 32, 303–314 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42

    Limpopo River Awareness Kit (Limpopo Watercourse Commission, 2011); www.limpoporak.org

  43. 43

    Chilundo, M., Kelderman, P. & O'Keeffe, J. H. O. Design of a water quality monitoring network for the Limpopo River Basin in Mozambique. Phys. Chem. Earth 33, 655–665 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44

    Hansen, J. W., Mason, S. J., Liqiang, S. & Tall, A. Review of seasonal climate forecasting for agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. Expl. Agric. 47, 205–240 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45

    Manatsa, D., Unganai, L., Gadzirai, C. & Behera, S. K. An innovative tailored seasonal rainfall forecasting production in Zimbabwe. Nat. Hazards 64, 1187–1207 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46

    Shongwe, M. E. et al. Projected changes in mean and extreme precipitation in Africa under global warming. Part I: southern Africa. J. Climate 22, 3819–3837 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47

    Zinyengere, N., Crespo, O. & Hachigonta, S. Crop response to climate change in southern Africa: A comprehensive review. Glob. Planet. Change 111, 118–126 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48

    Lobell, D. B. et al. Prioritizing climate change adaptation needs for food security in 2030. Science 319, 607–610 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49

    Rosenzweig, C. et al. Assessing agricultural risks of climate change in the 21st century in a global gridded crop model intercomparison. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 3268–3273 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50

    Schewe, J. et al. Multimodel assessment of water scarcity under climate change. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 3245–3250 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51

    Fant, C., Gebretsadik, Y. & Strzepek, K. Impact of Climate Change on Crops, Irrigation and Hydropower in the Zambezi River Basin Working Paper 2013/039 (World Institute for Development Economics Research, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

  52. 52

    Hertel, T. W., Burke, M. B. & Lobell, D. B. The poverty implications of climate-induced crop yield changes by 2030. Glob. Environ. Change 20, 577–585 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. 53

    Ahmed, S. A., Diffenbaugh, N. S. & Hertel, T. W. Climate volatility deepens poverty vulnerability in developing countries. Environ. Res. Lett. 4, 034004 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. 54

    Calzadilla, A., Zhu, T., Rehdanza, K., Tol, R. S. J. & Ringler, C. Climate change and agriculture: Impacts and adaptation options in South Africa. Wat. Resour. Econ. 5, 24–48 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. 55

    Arndt, C., Schlosser, A., Strzepek, K. & Thurlow, J. Climate change and economic growth prospects for Malawi: An uncertainty approach. J. Afr. Econ. 23, 83–107 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. 56

    The Economics of Adaptation to Future Climates in South Africa: An Integrated Biophysical and Economic Analysis Report No. 6 (Long Term Adaptation Scenarios Flagship Research Program, South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs, 2014).

  57. 57

    Alton, T. et al. Introducing carbon taxes in South Africa. Appl. Energ. 116, 344–354 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. 58

    Devarajan S., Go, D. S., Robinson, S. & Thierfelder, K. Tax policy to reduce carbon emissions in a distorted economy: Illustrations from a South Africa CGE model. B. E. J. Econ. Anal. Poli. 11, 1–22 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  59. 59

    Arndt, C. et al. An Integrated Approach to Modeling Energy Policy in South Africa: Evaluating Carbon Taxes and Electricity Import Restrictions (World Institute for Development Economics Research, 2014).

    Google Scholar 

  60. 60

    Eskom Integrated Report for the Year Ended 31 March 2013 (Eskom, 2013); http://overendstudio.co.za/online_reports/eskom_ar2013/pdf/full.pdf

  61. 61

    Arndt, C., Pauw, K. & Thurlow, J. Biofuels and economic development: A computable general equilibrium analysis for Tanzania. Energ. Econ. 34, 1922–1930 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. 62

    Ashton, P. J. & Turton, A. R. in Facing Global Environmental Change: Environmental, Human, Energy, Food, Health and Water Security Concepts (eds Brauch, H. G. et al.) Ch. 55 (Hexagon Series on Human and Environmental Security and Peace Vol. IV, Springer, 2009).

    Google Scholar 

  63. 63

    Furlong, K. Hidden theories, troubled waters: International relations, the 'territorial trap', and the Southern African Development Community's transboundary waters. Polit. Geogr. 25, 438–458 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. 64

    SAPP Annual Report 2014 (SAPP, 2014); http://www.sapp.co.zw/docs/Annual%20report-2014.pdf

  65. 65

    Southern African Development Commission Revised Protocol on Shared Watercourse Systems (SADC, 2000); http://go.nature.com/kuXPml

  66. 66

    Savenije, H. H. & Van der Zaag, P. Conceptual framework for the management of shared river basins; with special reference to the SADC and EU. Water Policy 2, 9–45 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. 67

    Treaty on the Development and Utilization of the Water Resources of the KOMATI River Basin, 1992 (Komati Basin Water Authority, 1992); http://www.kobwa.co.za/images/Treaty/Joint%20Water%20Commission_Treaty.pdf

  68. 68

    Turton, A. A South African perspective on a possible benefit-sharing approach for transboundary waters in the SADC region. Water Alternatives 1, 180–200 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  69. 69

    Mehta, L. et al. The politics of IWRM in southern Africa. Int. J. Water Resour. D. 30, 528–542 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. 70

    Muchuru, S., Landman, W. A., DeWitt, D. G. & Lötter, D. Seasonal rainfall predictability over the Lake Kariba catchment area. Water SA 40, 461–469 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. 71

    Demand and Supply (SAPP, 2013); http://www.sapp.co.zw/demand.html

  72. 72

    Dalin, C., Konar, M., Hanasaki, N., Rinaldo, A. & Rodriguez-Iturbe, I. Evolution of the global virtual water trade network. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 5989–5994 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  73. 73

    Dabrowski, J. M., Masekoameng, E. & Ashton, P. J. Analysis of virtual water flows associated with the trade of maize in the SADC region: Importance of scale. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 13, 1967–1977 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. 74

    Nelson, G., Palazzo, A., Ringler, C., Sulser, T. & Batka, M. The Role of International Trade in Climate Change Adaptation Paper No. 4 (INCTSD and IPC, 2009); http://www.agritrade.org/documents/IssueBrief4.pdf

    Google Scholar 

  75. 75

    Liu, J., Hertel, T., Taheripour, F., Zhu, T. & Ringler, C. International trade buffers the impact of future irrigation shortfalls. Glob. Environ. Change 29, 22–31 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. 76

    Konar, M. & Caylor, K. K. Virtual water trade and development in Africa. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 17, 3969–3982 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. 77

    Whiteside, M. Enhancing the Role of Informal Maize Imports in Malawi Food Security (UK Department for International Development, 2003).

    Google Scholar 

  78. 78

    Tschirley D. L. & Jayne, T. S. Exploring the logic behind southern Africa's food crises. World Dev. 38, 76–87 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. 79

    Ondiege, P., Moyo, J. M. & Verdier-Chouchane, A. Developing Africa's Infrastructure for Enhanced Competitiveness in the Africa Competitiveness Report 2013 (World Economic Forum, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

  80. 80

    SADC Protocol on Trade 1996 (SADC, 1996); http://www.sadc.int/files/4613/5292/8370/Protocol_on_Trade1996.pdf

  81. 81

    Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan: Transport Sector Plan (SADC, 2012); http://www.sadc.int/files/9313/5293/3536/Regional_Infrastructure_Development_Master_Plan_Transport_Sector_Plan.pdf

  82. 82

    Archer van Garderen, E. R. M. Time for action on climate change in southern Africa. The Conversation (25 May 2015); http://theconversation.com/time-for-action-on-climate-change-in-southern-africa-41774

  83. 83

    Field, C. B. (ed.) Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  84. 84

    Harris, I., Jones, P. D., Osborn, T. J. & Lister, D. H. Updated high-resolution grids of monthly climatic observations. Int. J. Climatol. 34, 623–642 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  85. 85

    Jerven, M. Poor Numbers: How we are Misled by African Development Statistics and what to do about it (Cornell Univ. Press, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

  86. 86

    Conway, D. & Schipper, E. L. F. Adaptation to climate change in Africa: Challenges and opportunities identified from Ethiopia. Glob. Environ. Change 21, 227–237 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  87. 87

    Pittock, J., Hussey, K & McGlennon, S. Australian climate, energy and water policies: Conflicts and synergies. Aust. Geogr. 44, 3–22 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  88. 88

    Rees, J. Geography and the nexus: Presidential address and record of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) AGM 2013. Geogr. J. 179, 279–282 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  89. 89

    Bizikova, L., Roy, D., Swanson, D., Venema, H. D. & McCandless, M. The Water–Energy–Food Security Nexus: Towards a Practical Planning and Decision-Support Framework for Landscape Investment and Risk Management (International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

  90. 90

    World Development Indicators (The World Bank, accessed 01 July 2014); http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/world-development-indicators

  91. 91

    International Energy Agency Statistics (IEA, accessed 01 August 2014); http://www.iea.org/statistics/

  92. 92

    AQUASTAT (FAO, accessed 01 August 2014); http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/main/index.stm

  93. 93

    FAOSTAT (FAO, accessed 01 July 2011); http://faostat.fao.org/site/291/default.aspx

  94. 94

    Hanasaki N. et al. An integrated model for the assessment of global water resources. Part 1: Model description and input meteorological forcing. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss. 12, 1007–1025 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  95. 95

    Hanasaki N. et al. An integrated model for the assessment of global water resources. Part 2: Applications and assessments. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 12, 1027–1037 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the following Belmont Forum members: US National Science Foundation (grant number 1342742), UK Natural Environment Research Council (grant number NE/L008785/1) and the South Africa National Research Foundation (grant number 86975), according to each agency's policies. T.K. and K.L. are funded, through IRI THESys, by the German Excellence Initiative. IFPRI's contribution is under the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Declan Conway.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary information (PDF 11435 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Conway, D., van Garderen, E., Deryng, D. et al. Climate and southern Africa's water–energy–food nexus. Nature Clim Change 5, 837–846 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2735

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing