Agricultural Water Shortages Projected as Climate Crisis Heats Up in the Mediterrean

ON 11/17/2021 AT 03:36 AM

A new study projects the worsening climate crisis will soon exhaust water supplies for agricultural needs around the Mediterranean Sea.

Olive trees in Italy

An olive tree field in Italy. As weather patterns heat up in the near future, areas like this may have challenges receiving enough water for irrigation. Photo: Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

The study brought together an international team of scientists led by the CMCC Foundation, the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, with offices in Venice and Milan, Italy. Other major contributors to the research effort included the Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands, the University of California Davis, and the University of Sassari in Italy.

The analysis looked at various scenarios for crop consumption and irrigation requirements under differing future climatic conditions. The information included forward-looking need projections for the agricultural industry regionally, and matched them against what will likely happen as global temperatures rise and the seasonal weather patterns across the Mediterranean change over time.

The goal of the effort was to help drive long-term adaptation policy planning for the region.

The research shows that in Mediterranean countries, maize, wheat, and grape production will require on average 13%, 16%, and 10% more water, respectively, during 2035-2065 and under the climate scenarios RCP 8.5 and RCP 4.5. The RCP 8.5 indicates a scenario of comparatively high greenhouse gas emissions, and RCP 4.5 an intermediate scenario that assumes imposition of effective emissions mitigation policies. At the same time, as a result of more pronounced future droughts, a general yield decline is expected, especially for staple crops such as maize and wheat. Increases in irrigation demand and reduction in water supplies due to climate change, can lead to significant challenges for water resource management to reduce conflicts among sectors (e.g. household use, energy production, tourism, industrial production processes) for water use.

Increasing the resilience of the agricultural sector to extreme events in Mediterranean countries through adaptation and mitigation strategies is a critical priority for governments. It implies optimizing water consumption while also supporting food security.

The study developed and tested two new implementations of the Simulation of Evapotranspiration of Applied Water model (SIMETAW#), and confirmed the importance of such modelling tools to help farmers and policymakers. It ultimately aims at developing optimal strategies balancing economic growth and environmental sustainability by addressing water demand vs. available supplies at different spatial scales.

“Water resource planning in the current and future climate requires a strong multidisciplinary and transversal approach to ensure the availability of scientifically-based information on irrigation needs and the different management options at various scales” said Donatella Spano, Senior Member of the Strategic Council of the CMCC, one of the authors of the article.

“To accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, policies and strategies should be developed by assessing interlinkages, synergies, and trade-offs between the various sectors” said Sara Masia, CMCC researcher. “This integrated approach can support policymakers in the different sectors to make decisions on the environment, resources security, and economy, and to develop plans and strategies targeted to sustainable integrated resource management”.

The paper, “A modeling platform for climate change impact on local and regional crop water requirements,” by Masia, S.; Trabucco, A.; Spano, D.; Snyder, R.L.; Sušnik, J.; and Marras, S., was published in the 1 September 2021 issue of Agricultural Water Management.