21st Century water withdrawal decoupling: A pathway to a more water-wise world?

Elsevier, Water Resources and Economics, Volume 38, April 2022
Dalstein F., Naqvi A.

Human demand for adequate water resources and supplies has been and will continue to be a fundamental issue in the 21st century due to rapid population growth, growing economies and globalization, and increasing water pollution, among others. Water withdrawals in regions which are already encountering scarcity will impose intensifying pressure on water resources locally and globally, threatening the achievement of long-term sustainable development targets. Decoupling has increasingly been recognized and incorporated in policy making as a way to reconcile limitless economic growth with environmental pressures. Filling evident literature gaps, the current state and projected future decoupling factors of water withdrawals in relation to GDP are assessed through decoupling and regression analyzes for 155 countries and 12 potential socioeconomic development pathway scenarios. Findings suggest that average levels of water withdrawal decoupling are moderate in 2025 but will increase throughout the century in all countries. By 2075, average water withdrawal decoupling becomes common and widespread, with high decoupling factors across the world. Yet, some countries and regions will continue to lag behind in this development. GDP growth is the most significant driver of water withdrawals. Climate and regional differences among countries are major influential factors on decoupling outcomes, more so than current country-level income group classification. Altogether, these results are of high significance to water resource managers and policy actors, offering a chance to act proactively to change the course on global water resource and country-specific development. In this way, decoupling provides a pathway to a more water-wise world.