Arjen Hoekstra investigates how much land and water the world needs for food and energy
The research of Arjen Hoekstra, Professor of Water Management at the University of Twente, is mainly focussed on water and land use for the world’s food and energy supply. He addresses issues varying from environmental sustainability and social equity to economic efficiency and social-ecological resilience. His work is highly interdisciplinary, crossing the boundaries between the natural and social sciences and between technology and policy.
The professor recently received an ERC Advanced Grant for his research project Earth@lternatives. This project focuses on the question of how much land and water are needed worldwide for the production and consumption of our food and energy. "We must use the natural resources of land and water responsibly, in our production and consumption," said the researcher. "We also need to share these resources fairly. And: society needs more resilience to absorb shocks."
According to Hoekstra, research is being conducted into all these aspects, but not in mutual coherence. For the first time, the project is integrating methods from different disciplines. The way in which different societies deal with risk and uncertainty is also an important element. "We want food and energy for everyone, but we also want to be sustainable and resilient. Sometimes these goals are contradictory, so we will analyse synergies and compromises between ecological sustainability, resource efficiency, social justice and socio-environmental resilience," says the professor.
"We are looking at trends in the past and develop scenarios for the future," says Hoekstra. "We do this from the point of view of production, trade and consumption, while considering environmental sustainability, resource efficiency, equitable sharing and resilience. To begin with, Hoekstra maps out the use of land and water for the production and consumption of food and energy 'with unprecedented precision' on a global scale. On the basis of an analysis of the past decades, and in combination with new models, this should lead to alternative scenarios for realising the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
Hoekstra is well-known as the creator of the water footprint concept. He introduced supply-chain thinking in water management and pioneered in quantifying the water volumes virtually embedded in trade, thus showing the relevance of a global perspective on water use and scarcity.
Professor Hoekstra laid the foundation of the interdisciplinary research field of Water Footprint Assessment, which addresses the relations between water management, consumption and trade. In order to bring theory to practice, he founded the Water Footprint Network, an international network of researchers and practitioners aiming to bring about more sustainable and equitable water use worldwide.
Throughout his career, Arjen Hoekstra has combined top research with teaching. Hoekstra: “It’s really nice to be able to include the latest research results in my courses and involve students in ongoing research projects”.
Regarding the role of the university Hoekstra says: “One of the most important functions of a university is to guide students in becoming broad and critical thinkers”. According to Hoekstra, educational programs are often still too much focused on the skill of reproducing the language, theories and methods of one specific discipline, at the cost of understanding different perspectives, independent thinking, creativity, and debate. “The great breakthroughs in science come from an open attitude and by combining insights from different disciplines.”
Arjen Hoekstra is Professor of Water Management at the University of Twente since 2005. He holds an MSc degree in Civil Engineering and PhD degree in Policy Analysis from Delft University of Technology. Hoekstra lived in Europe, Asia and Africa and has a broad international network. He has led a variety of interdisciplinary research projects and advised governments, civil society organizations, companies and multilateral institutions like UNESCO and the World Bank. Hoekstra received various awards, including an ERC Advanced Grant, Europe's most prestigious research grant.
Arjen Hoekstra is one of the most cited scholars in his field in the world. His publications cover a wide range of topics related to water, food, energy and trade. His books have been translated into several languages and include The Water Footprint of Modern Consumer Society, The Water Footprint Assessment Manual and Globalization of Water. Hoekstra has been teaching in a variety of subjects, including: sustainable development, water management, river basin management, hydrology, water quality, water footprint assessment, natural resources valuation, environmental systems analysis, and policy analysis. He developed various educational tools, including the River Basin Game and the Globalization of Water Role Play.
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