The global nexus of food–trade–water sustaining environmental flows by 2050


In the face of meeting Sustainable Development Goals for the water–food–energy–ecosystems nexus, integrated assessments are a great means to measure the impact of global change on natural resources. In this study, we evaluate the impact of climate change with the representative concentration pathway 8.5 scenario and the impact of socioeconomics with the shared socioeconomic pathway 2 scenario on land use, water consumption and food trade under four water regulation policy scenarios (invest, exploit, environment and environment+). We used the Global Biosphere Management Model and constrained it with water availability, environmental flow requirements, and water use from agriculture, industry and households (simulated using the Lund–Potsdam–Jena managed Land model, Environmental Policy Integrated Climate model and WaterGap model). Here, we show that an increase in land use by 100 Mha would be required to double food production by 2050, to meet projected food demands. International trade would need to nearly triple to meet future crop demands, with an additional 10–20% trade flow from water-abundant regions to water-scarce regions to sustain environmental flow requirements on a global scale.

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Fig. 1: Conceptual framework for the inclusion of water dynamics and climate scenarios in the GLOBIOM model.
Fig. 2: Total crop area and production under water management scenarios.
Fig. 3: Relative percentage changes in land use, water use and trade between 2000 and 2050 under different water management and climate change scenarios.
Fig. 4: Impact of climate change and implementation of EFRs on cropland distribution.
Fig. 5: Impact of climate change and respective EFRs on net trade in agricultural products.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on request. General correspondence and requests for source data and materials should be addressed to A.V.P. Requests for access to code should be addressed to A.V.P and A.P. ( following institutional rules.


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The authors thank the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, Wageningen University and the GEF-funded Integrated Solutions for Water, Energy and Land (ISWEL; GEF contract agreement no. 6993) project for funding part of this research. This work was also funded by a Young Scientists Summer Program grant via the IIASA and Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. We thank S. Langan, A. Mosnier, T. Krisztin, E. Palis and M. Cantele for valuable input and comments, and S. Kronrod for revision and English language assistance.

Author information

A.V.P. and A.P conceptualized the model, wrote the Methods section and performed the model simulations. All authors developed the concepts and ideas. A.V.P. prepared the data input, performed the data analysis and wrote the paper.

Correspondence to A. V. Pastor.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary information

Supplementary methods, Supplementary Figs. 1–9, Supplementary Tables 1–7, Supplementary discussion, Supplementary references 1–6

Supplementary Dataset 1

Global crop repartition as a pivot table per mega-region by 2050

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Pastor, A.V., Palazzo, A., Havlik, P. et al. The global nexus of food–trade–water sustaining environmental flows by 2050. Nat Sustain 2, 499–507 (2019).

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