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Seeking Equilibrium on Water, Energy and Land Use

IAEA Foots Proposal to Address Resource Conflicts

A new IAEA proposal would examine water use along with associated implications for energy and land use. Above, pipelines carry water used to cool a nuclear power plant. (Photo: Goesgen NPP)

An IAEA proposal has been put forward that would seek to ameliorate problems such as the recent food price crisis by helping planners and policymakers to plan better use of water, energy and land. Presented at a high-level UN meeting last month, the new service would merge three IAEA offerings and assist countries in coordinating planning activities with a view to respecting resource interdependencies.

Most resource arrangements currently occur in separate and disconnected institutional entities. But since water, energy and land use are closely linked to one another, the way forward would seek sustainable solutions that would take a universal view of forecasting and planning resource use.

"My group handles energy planning, and in our work we had previously looked over issues related to other resources and focused simply on energy. When concern over biofuels arose, we began to see energy, food, and water conflicts start to enter into the equation," explained Hans-Holger Rogner, Head of the IAEA´s Planning and Economic Studies Section. "We realized that a different modeling approach may be needed. We could employ models for energy planning methodology and integrate them with other resource planning, such as those for water and land, to get a bigger picture of how use of one resource impacts another."

To illustrate the linkages of water, land and energy resources, following are some examples where use of these resources is in conflict:

  • Inadequate power supply in South Africa acts as a hindrance to development. Increasing the country´s power supply can sap precious water resources and reduce water´s availability for other purposes. But an inconsistent electricity supply can also prompt destruction of vegetation for use of fire wood, which can in turn accelerate desertification.
  • Drought affecting lakes and rivers can strain not only on drinking water supply, but can also force nuclear reactors to scale back operations, since the cooling water they need to operate is in short supply.
  • As interest in biofuel has increased, land that may otherwise be used for food stocks is diverted to the production biofuels such as ethanol or biodiesel. Harvesting biomass for fuel production can put strain on water supplies used for irrigation of food crops.

The proposal calls for an offering utilizing the services of three IAEA programs: the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications´ (NA´s) isotope hydrology, the Joint FAO/IAEA Division´s (NAFA´s) soil, water and crop nutrition and water management, and the Department of Nuclear Energy´s (NE´s) energy planning service.

The project would aim to become an add-on extension to a number of tools being provided by the IAEA to member states to analyse energy requirements. Its proponents hope to integrate the offering into the IAEA´s planning portfolio by 2010-2011.


The new approach to resource planning arose from concerns associated with biofuels and worries over rising global food prices. As economic planners examined the global "food versus fuel" discussion taking place, they looked at how resource management studies are typically conducted and arrived at the idea of an integrated approach.

The proposal was presented in a side session at a meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), a high-level forum for sustainable development within the United Nations system. The CSD meets annually in New York, in two-year cycles, with each cycle focusing on specific thematic and cross-sectoral issues.

Last update: 27 July 2017