Climatic Change

, Volume 125, Issue 2, pp 209-220

First online:

The water impacts of climate change mitigation measures

  • Philip J. WallisAffiliated withMonash University Email author 
  • , Michael B. WardAffiliated withMonash University
  • , Jamie PittockAffiliated withThe Australian National University
  • , Karen HusseyAffiliated withThe Australian National University
  • , Howard BamseyAffiliated withThe Australian National University
  • , Amandine DenisAffiliated withClimate Works Australia
  • , Steven J. KenwayAffiliated withThe University of Queensland
  • , Carey W. KingAffiliated withThe University of Texas
  • , Shahbaz MushtaqAffiliated withUniversity of Southern Queensland
    • , Monique L. RetamalAffiliated withUniversity of Technology Sydney
    • , Brian R. SpiesAffiliated withIndependent Consultant

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A variety of proposed activities to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions will impact on scarce water resources, which are coming under increasing pressure in many countries due to population growth and shifting weather patterns. However, the integrated analysis of water and carbon impacts has been given limited attention in greenhouse mitigation planning. In this Australian case study, we analyse a suite of 74 mitigation measures ranked as highest priority by one influential analysis, and we find that they have highly variable consequences for water quantity. We find: (1) The largest impacts result from land-based sequestration, which has the potential to intercept large quantities of water and reduce catchment yields, estimated to exceed 100 Mm3/MtCO2-e of carbon mitigated (100,000 l per tonne CO2-e). (2) Moderate impacts result from some renewable power options, including solar thermal power with a water cost estimated at nearly 4 Mm3/MtCO2-e. However, the water impacts of solar thermal power facilities could be reduced by designing them to use existing power-related water supplies or to use air or salt-water cooling. (3) Wind power, biogas, solar photovoltaics, energy efficiency and operational improvements to existing power sources can reduce water demand through offsetting the water used to cool thermal power generation, with minor savings estimated at 2 Mm3/MtCO2-e and amounting to nearly 100 Mm3 of water saved in Australia per annum in 2020. This integrated analysis significantly changes the attractiveness of some mitigation options, compared to the case where water impacts are not considered.