Regional water footprints and interregional virtual water transfers in China

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China faces increasingly severe water stress from its limited, unevenly distributed water resources and rapid economic growth. Interregional trade of goods and services within China further leads to a redistribution of water resources through virtual water transfers. Such virtual transfers are subject to constant changes due to the temporal variabilities in driving factors such as production efficiency, consumption patterns and population. Here we use the most recent public data to measure the water footprints of 31 provincial-level regions in China and virtual water transfers among these regions in 2012. We find that virtual water transfer plays a significant role in regional water footprints and greatly changes the allocation of water resources towards regional consumptions. Already water-scarce north China regions benefit from virtual water transfer by outsourcing water-intensive products from other regions. However, the water-scarce Northwest China suffers from virtual water transfer by exporting water-intensive products. We suggest policy makers pay attention to demand-side measures to incentivize parties to improve water efficiency in their production and reduce the consumption of water-intensive goods. Policymaking should consider economic policy and water conservation policy together to alleviate regional water stress through virtual water transfers.

Multi-regional input-output model
virtual water
water stress
Publication Type: 
Journal Article
Journal of Cleaner Production
Date Published: 
August 2019
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Full Citation: 
Zhang, Shidong, Morteza Taiebat, Yu Liu, Shen Qu, Sai Liang, and Ming Xu. (2019) “Regional water footprints and interregional virtual water transfers in China.” Journal of Cleaner Production 228: 1401-1412.
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