Food & Energy Security –

Balancing agriculture & coal in China


Food and energy will compete for water in the parched North. Therefore China needs to balance and control water use between agriculture and its large coal bases to ensure food and energy security . See which provinces are most exposed to this tight water-energy-food nexus and what needs to be done, from better irrigation efficiency to lowering water use along the coal value chain China Food Security China Energy Security
State of water resources

Coal & Agriculture

Agriculture & energy are the #1 and #2 largest users of water respectively in China. Agriculture
However, 86% of coal reserves & 55% of sown area lie in the parched North, which accounts for only 16% of water resources.
North South DivideWho’s Running Dry
With food & energy likely to compete for water in the North, China is balancing & controlling water use between agriculture and its large coal bases to ensure food & energy security.
Coal reserves
Almost half of China’s coal reserves come from Dry 11 regions. Shanxi is particularly exposed with 37% of coal reserves but less water resources per capita (365m³) than Iraq. DRY 11
Top 5
China vs. RoW
Sown land
34% of China’s sown land are in Dry 11 regions. Henan, in particular, is both among China’s Top 4 farming provinces & Top 4 coal producers.
Top 5
China vs. RoW
Controlling water use in agriculture & coal
Coal & coal-fired power are growing faster than total water use allowed by the national water use red line quotas. In order to stay within the water use red line by 2030, China needs to save agricultural water and the practice of transferring agricultural water savings to coal base projects has been experimented in Water Use Permit trading pilots along the upper reaches of the Yellow River. 3 Red LinesWater Permits & Rights
Saving agricultural water for coal. Agricultural water use has already been capped at 360 billion m³ by 2025. However, to reach maximum water saving potential & irrigation efficiency targets, more financing & infrastructure upgrading are needed especially in the face of climate change and extreme weather. China Irrigation
Water & Climate Change
Coal also faces a double whammy in times of droughts (1) more water & power are required for irrigation and therefore less agricultural water is transferred to coal bases; and (2) hydropower generation is reduced as water is held in reservoirs, thereby drawing on more coal-fired power Extreme Weather Events
Lowering water use along the whole coal-value chain is therefore a must to secure water for coal. With around 95% of China’s coal mined underground, it is also vital to protect groundwater resources by minimising mining’s impact on water to contain groundwater & soil pollution. Groundwater Depletion

Further reading – Balancing Water For Agri & Coal

China’s coal mines lie next to its farmlands. Can China save enough water in agriculture to fuel coal growth?
  • Agri & coal-related industries are the two largest users of water; China plans to save agri water to fuel coal growth
  • Provinces projected to have 95% of coal output by 2020 are also home to half of China’s sown land
  • Water savings in coal are greater than irrigation savings but both are needed if the Western Route is to be avoided

Sources: China Statistical Yearbook 2017; FAO Aquastat 2016; China Water Risk report “Towards A Water & Energy Secure China – Tough choices ahead in power expansion with limited water resources” 2015; China Water Risk article “New Trading Markets to Enforce Red Lines” 10 February, 2015; National Sustainable Agriculture Development Plan (2015-2030); Work Plan on Implementing Assessment of the Most Stringent Water Management System 2014; Pan et al. “A supply chain based assessment of water issues in the coal industry in China” Energy Policy, 48, 93–102, 2012