* Energy firms urged to do more to limit water use
* Water under strain from rising population, climate change
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO, March 21 Rising demand for energy, from
biofuels to shale gas, is a threat to freshwater supplies that
are already under strain from climate change, the United Nations
said in a report on Friday.
It urged energy companies to do more to limit use of water
in everything from cooling coal-fired power plants to irrigation
for crops grown to produce biofuels.
"Demand for energy and freshwater will increase
significantly in the coming decades," U.N. agencies said in the
World Water Development Report. "This increase will present big
challenges and strain resources in nearly all regions."
By 2030, the world will need 40 percent more water and 50
percent more energy than now, the report said. Water is under
pressure from factors such as a rising population, pollution and
droughts, floods and heatwaves linked to global warming.
Around the world, about 770 million of the world's 7 billion
people now lack access to safe drinking water, it said. And the
energy sector accounts for about 15 percent of water withdrawals
from sources such as rivers, lakes and aquifers.
"This interdependence calls for vastly improved cooperation"
between water and energy, said Irina Bokova, Director-General of
UNESCO (U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
The report lamented the lack of influence of the water
sector compared to what it called the "great political clout" of
energy. March 22 is World Water Day in the U.N. calendar.
All energy production used water, often as a coolant, it
said. Least water was used in wind and solar power, while heavy
users included hydraulic fracking to produce shale gas or the
extraction of oil from tar sands.
Hydropower dams were sometimes built with little thought for
other water users. And the report urged caution about biofuels,
partly because of water used for irrigation.
"China and India, the world's two largest producers and
consumers of many agricultural commodities, already face severe
water limitations in agricultural production, yet both have
initiated programmes to boost biofuel production," it said.
Zafar Adeel, head of the U.N. University's Institute for
Water, Environment and Health, said that governments should
re-think subsidies for both energy and water.
"Pricing water is much more challenging" than energy, he
told a telephone news briefing. The U.N. General Assembly
declared water a human right in 2010, strengthening arguments
that basic supplies should be free.
Energy companies say they try to limit water use. Exxon
Mobil, for instance, said that net freshwater
consumption at its operations fell 11 percent to 2.1 billion
barrels in 2012 from 2011.
The U.N. study said there were examples where energy could
successfully recycle water. In Stockholm, buses and taxes run on
biogas produced from waste water, which is rich in methane.
A draft report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change, due for release on March 29, says that global
warming will disrupt water supplies, especially in developing
nations, with damaging impacts from food to health.
(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Hugh Lawson)