Socioeconomic Impacts of Policy Interventions in the Food-Energy-water Nexus

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The food-energy-water (FEW) nexus is considered essential for human survival and critical for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, pressures on each component of the nexus are growing as a result of population and economic growth. The FEW nexus can also be affected by competition for limited land, climate change, and demand and supply changes. Although government policies targeting one of the components of the nexus will directly affect the others, they are still not accounting for the interconnectedness of all three.

The dissertation, through three essays seeks to understand how government policies would affect the FEW nexus, focusing on Thailand or Brazil. The first essay assesses challenges with crop residue burning in Thailand. Additionally, the essay highlights policies implemented that target residue burning or its use and the potential solutions through crop residue use. The second essay examines specific policies on crop residue burning and renewable energy (RE) production to understand their impacts on sustainability. An extended input-output model is run to using policy scenarios for the future to gauge its impacts on total output, gross value added, employment, labor income, key input use, land use, water use and CO2 emissions on Thailand and Northeast Thailand. The final essay explores food and energy security given water supply limitations as water availability greatly impacts availability of food and energy. It uses a region in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where RE policies and other interventions have helped make ethanol production and use cost effective. A model is developed to maximize profits while optimally allocating water to food, energy and municipal water. The study looks at a normal rainfall year, and also runs a future demand change scenario. The dissertation concludes by detailing the challenges that exist, future potential for the FEW nexus policies, limitations and uncertainties.

The dissertation establishes that given the interlinked nature of the FEW nexus, policies need to be implemented to account for all three components. The first essay shows that over time, an increasing number of policies in Thailand target crop residue burning through controlling burning or its use in RE production. Although these policies have been implemented, there are still shortcomings in the policy targets for biomass use, and in the large water use by the sector, as highlighted in essay 1 and 2. Essay 2 also demonstrates social, economic and environmental benefits of using crop residue for RE through employment generated, labor income increases, and CO2 emission reduction in Thailand and Northeast Thailand. We also see increasing competition for land for energy, with sugarcane potentially overtaking rice in Northeast Thailand. In essay 3, we see that while Brazil has implemented sound policies on RE, there are water security challenges, and competition between food, energy and municipal water supply. We see that the current infrastructure cannot satisfy future demand, leading to competing demands and equity challenges. Finally, in the conclusion, the research highlights uncertainties about future demand, water supply, technology, price, etc. along with potential policies.