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Research Integrated Research on Energy, Environment and Society | IREES News

Water consumption and biodiversity: Responses to global emergency events

25 March 2024

Authors: Dandan Zhao, Junguo Liu, Laixiang Sun, Klaus Hubacek , Stephan Pfister, Kuishuang Feng, Heran Zheng, Xu Peng, Daoping Wang, Hong Yang, Lei Shen, Fei Lun, Xu Zhao, Bin Chen, Marko Keskinen, Shaohui Zhang, Jialiang Cai, Olli Varis

Journal: Science Bulletin


Given that it was a once-in-a-century emergency event, the confinement measures related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused diverse disruptions and changes in life and work patterns. These changes significantly affected water consumption both during and after the pandemic, with direct and indirect consequences on biodiversity. However, there has been a lack of holistic evaluation of these responses. Here, we propose a novel framework to study the impacts of this unique global emergency event by embedding an environmentally extended supply-constrained global multiregional input-output model (MRIO) into the drivers-pressure-state-impact-response (DPSIR) framework. This framework allowed us to develop scenarios related to COVID-19 confinement measures to quantify country-sector-specific changes in freshwater consumption and the associated changes in biodiversity for the period of 2020–2025. The results suggest progressively diminishing impacts due to the implementation of COVID-19 vaccines and the socio-economic system’s self-adjustment to the new normal. In 2020, the confinement measures were estimated to decrease global water consumption by about 5.7% on average across all scenarios when compared to the baseline level with no confinement measures. Further, such a decrease is estimated to lead to a reduction of around 5% in the related pressure on biodiversity. Given the interdependencies and interactions across global supply chains, even those countries and sectors that were not directly affected by the COVID-19 shocks experienced significant impacts: Our results indicate that the supply chain propagations contributed to 79% of the total estimated decrease in water consumption and 84% of the reduction in biodiversity loss on average. Our study demonstrates that the MRIO-enhanced DSPIR framework can help quantify resource pressures and the resultant environmental impacts across supply chains when facing a global emergency event. Further, we recommend the development of more locally based water conservation measures—to mitigate the effects of trade disruptions—and the explicit inclusion of water resources in post-pandemic recovery schemes. In addition, innovations that help conserve natural resources are essential for maintaining environmental gains in the post-pandemic world.

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Last modified:12 April 2024 2.20 p.m.

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