Global assessment of water challenges under uncertainty in water scarcity projections
- Nature Sustainability
- Water scarcity, a critical environmental issue worldwide, has primarily been driven by a significant increase in water extractions during the last century. In the coming decades, climate and societal changes are projected to further exacerbate water scarcity in many regions worldwide. Today, a major issue for the ongoing policy debate is to identify interventions able to address water scarcity challenges in the presence of large uncertainties. Here, we take a probabilistic approach to assess global water scarcity projections following feasible combinations of shared socioeconomic pathways and representative concentration pathways for the first half of the twenty-first century. We identify—alongside trends in median water scarcity—changes in the uncertainty range of anticipated water scarcity conditions. Our results show that median water scarcity and the associated range of uncertainty are generally increasing worldwide, including many major river basins. On the basis of these results, we develop a general decision-making framework to enhance policymaking by identifying four representative clusters of specific water policy challenges and needs.