Analysis of water–energy nexus and trends in support of the sustainable development goals: A study using longitudinal water–energy use data
Water and energy are two critical natural resources necessary for human activities and socioeconomic development. Water and energy systems are highly interdependent, and water efficiency and energy efficiency are two related indicators for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. It is critical to improve energy–water use efficiency to sustain socioeconomic development while reducing adverse effects on natural resources, society, and the environment. By using longitudinal energy–water use data for China over the past 21 years, this paper develops a temporo-spatial study to address key issues and introduce analytical approaches needed to understand the water-energy nexus and support integrated resource planning and management to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Decomposition analysis indicates that the production effect was the dominating factor contributing the increase in the country’s energy–water use, while energy–water efficiency is the major factor slowing the growth of the country’s energy–water use. Changes and trends analyses show that the country’s energy intensity, water intensity, and water/energy ratio significantly decreased from 1999 to 2019, but the rate of decline has slowed. The disparities of the country’s provincial energy intensities, water intensities, and water/energy ratios significantly decreased with economic growth. Results suggest that improving energy–water efficiency is critical for the country to curb increasing energy and water use and achieve resource and environmental protection targets with rapid economic development. The disparities between regional energy-water efficiencies can be reduced along with economic growth, while an overheated economy can widen the disparities and result in unsustainable and inefficient utilization of resources. Government coordination, targets, and policy as part of the efficiency governance system are critical for continuous energy–water efficiency improvement and directly influence the implementation and effectiveness of energy–water efficiency policy.