Agricultural market integration preserves future global water resources

Elsevier, One Earth, Volume 6, 15 September 2023
Graham N.T., Iyer G., Wild T.B., Dolan F., Lamontagne J., Calvin K.

Traded agricultural goods redistribute water, virtually, around the world to satisfy unmet demands while limiting excess water extraction in importing regions. However, gaps remain in our understanding of how alternative international trade regimes may alter agricultural water demands, locally and virtually. Here, we explore global agricultural water savings and virtual water trade impacts of such trade regimes under reference and low-carbon scenarios using an integrated and water-constrained human-earth system model. We find that varying agricultural market integration significantly alters regional water withdrawals while substantially affecting global nonrenewable groundwater withdrawals. These results highlight the susceptibility of water resources, across regions, to varying degrees of market integration. Understanding how trade integration may evolve in the future can assist in the integrated management of water resources to allow for enhanced food security and potential amelioration of water stress.