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A Global Choke Point Report: China's Water-Energy-Food Roadmap

The water-energy-food nexus is creating a complicated challenge for China and the world. Energy development requires water. Moving and cleaning water requires energy. Food production at all stages—from irrigation to distribution—requires water and energy. As the most populous country and the world’s manufacturing hub, China demands all three resources in ever increasing amounts, leading to shortages that are creating serious choke points to the country’s development. Pressure on water is at the heart of these resource constraints facing China. 

How China can secure enough clean water to maintain agricultural and energy production to meet its population’s needs is a challenge that holds far- reaching consequences for the country’s future. As a systematic attempt to summarize China’s choke point challenges and spark innovative thinking and pragmatic action, the Roadmap begins with an overview of the water-energy-food nexus trends in China, starting with the energy sector’s thirst for water—from coal and hydropower to renewables and natural gas. The second section examines the often-overlooked energy footprint of China’s water sector, and the third outlines the water and energy demands of China’s food sector. The Roadmap then pulls in lessons from the U.S. experience dealing with water-energy-food challenges, and closes with suggestions on how Chinese policy practitioners, businesses, and civil society groups could embark on a comprehensive assessment of the current situation and initiate action to address China’s choke points.

This bilingual report builds on the China Environment Forum’s (CEF) extensive research in partnership with Circle of Blue, and draws heavily on a weeklong exchange with American and Chinese water, energy, and food experts that took place in China in August 2013. Since 2010, CEF and Circle of Blue have raised awareness of the water-energy-food confrontation in China and served as “matchmakers,” helping to build knowledge partnerships among the government, NGOs, and the private sector to further choke point research. We were greatly encouraged when, in November 2014, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping jointly announced—as part of a new climate accord to curb carbon emissions—the launch of a $50 million water-energy nexus program under the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC). This partnership could serve as a model for future bilateral and multilateral water-energy management cooperation. With this Roadmap we seek to provide a comprehensive look at the water-energy-food challenges China faces and highlight further opportunities for U.S.- China cooperation.  

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