How will we provide secure food, water, and energy today and for the future?

October 22, 2015  |  9:30 – 11 a.m. | Coffman/Mississippi Room

Forum Summary: Notes capturing key elements of discussion (pdf)

Agenda (pdf)

Overview (pdf)

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Questions for Discussion (pdf)

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Multiple ideas submitted by University of Minnesota faculty speak to the complex challenges involved in providing secure food, water, and energy to a growing world population while
minimizing adverse consequences for people and the environment.

World population has passed seven billion people and is expected to exceed nine billion people by 2050. At the same time the world is becoming wealthier, with global per capita Gross Domestic Product increasing nearly four-fold since 1950. Greater global population and affluence interact to place extraordinary demands on the world’s food, water, and energy systems. For example, adequately nourishing everyone on the planet and accommodating a global diet that is richer in meatwill require crop production to increase as much as two-fold over present levels by 2050.

Increasing population and affluence are also driving demand for energy: primary energy consumption has increased nearly 25 percent over the past decade, with emerging economies dominating the growth. Demand for water is also increasing, particularly in Asia, where over half of global freshwater withdrawal and nearly three-quarters of freshwater consumption occur. This demand largely supports irrigated agriculture to meet growing needs for food. Increasing water consumption threatens supplies of freshwater from both surface and ground water sources.

The challenges of meeting growing demand for food, water, and energy are compounded by concomitant threats to the environment and human welfare. For example, production of food contributes to climate change and degradation of land, air, and water quality. Food, energy, and water insecurities contribute to social and political conflicts throughout the world. In turn, climate change and its attendant floods, droughts, and heat waves, exacerbate the stresses placed on global food, water, energy, and social-political systems.

Droughts made worse by climate change are causing crop failures and driving depletion of aquifers, threatening long-term food and water security. In other regions, climate change has led to increasing precipitation and extreme rainfall events that are flooding croplands and aggravating the detrimental effects of agriculture on downstream water quality. Food shortages contributed to uprisings across the Middle East and desire for secure energy and water sources has shaped global alliances and conflicts. New technologies, and policies to promote renewable energy, inadvertently have created conflict between food and fuel: grain is being diverted from food to biofuel production, and expanding shale oil and gas production in agricultural regions causes potential conflict between using land and water resources for food versus energy.

Global trade in energy, fertilizer, and agricultural products further threatens the security of energy, food, and water. Movement of animals and crop plants spread pests and diseases. Importation of food hinders control of food-borne illnesses and food adulteration. A rapidly changing landscape in global energy production is altering energy imports and exports, changing world markets, and contributing to global conflict.

Meeting the grand challenges of providing the food, water, and energy to a rising global population and a growing middle class, in ways that minimize harm to humans and the environment, will require integrating expertise across multiple disciplines in new ways as well as innovations in, for example, technology, problem-solving approaches, quantitative tools, policies and institutions, understanding of human values and behavior, and creative harnessing of biodiversity.

Summary by members of the Provost’s Grand Challenges Research Strategies Team, October 2015