We quantify the heavily oil-dominated WEF nexus in three Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) across spatial scales and over time, using available empirical data at the national level, and explore the exposure to nexus stresses (groundwater depletion) in other countries through virtual water trade. At the domestic scale, WEF trade-offs are fairly limited; while all sectors require considerable amounts of energy, the requirements for water and food production are modest compared to other uses. At the international scale, revenues from oil exports in the GCC allow the region to compensate for low food production and scarce water availability. This dependency is dynamic over time, increasing when oil prices are low and food prices are high. We show how reducing domestic trade-offs can lead to higher exposure internationally, with rice imports originating in regions where groundwater is being depleted. However, Saudi Arabia’s increased wheat imports, after reversing its food self-sufficiency policy, have had limited effects on groundwater depletion elsewhere. Climate change mitigation links the WEF nexus to the global scale. While there is great uncertainty about future international climate policy, our analysis illustrates how implementation of measures to account for the social costs of carbon would reduce the oil and gas revenues available to import food and desalinate water in the GCC.

CSiderius, C., Conway, D., Yassine, M., Murken, L., Lostis, P-L., Dalin, C. (2020) Multi-scale analysis of the Water-Energy-Food Nexus in the Gulf region. Environmental Research Letters, 15, 094024

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