Economic Perspectives on Water Resources, Climate Change, and Agricultural Sustainability
Water is a critical input to agriculture, and the allocation of water has been an important historical determinant of agricultural output in different regions of the US and around the world. Leading projections suggest that climate change may have important effects on the availability of water resources in many places. A recent UN report warns that within the next 80 years, 129 countries (including the United States) will face increased drought risk as a result of climate change.
Domestically, climate change is expected to affect both the supply and demand of water for agricultural purposes. There may be changes in the intersectoral allocation between agriculture and other purposes, pressure to extend irrigation to previously rain-fed regions, while at the same time there will be heightened competition for water used for agriculture in currently irrigated regions. The set of private and public responses to climate change may include water conservation, alteration in water quality and reuse, revised irrigation infrastructure, and changes in production practices including cropping patterns, crop genetics, and crop selection. These adjustments may help the agricultural sector sustain production in the face of the effects of climate change and associated water scarcity, but they may also come at private and social costs. The nature of the response in agriculture depends upon the institutional structure of the sectors involved.
To develop empirical estimates of the potential economic effects of adaptation practices, options, and associated policies, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), with the support of the Economic Research Service at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is planning a research conference on “Economic Perspectives on Water Resources, Climate Change, and Agricultural Sustainability” in May, 2022. The conference will be organized by Gary Libecap (University of California, Santa Barbara and NBER) and Ariel Dinar (University of California, Riverside).
The conference will showcase research on a range of issues related to water resources, agriculture, and climate change. It will focus on empirical analyses of past and existing investments, production, and adjustments to inform how increased water scarcity will affect agriculture and the role of different institutional options in the sector’s response. Research topics that would be suitable for presentation at the meeting include, but are not limited to:
- The historical and prospective impacts of projected climate change on water supply and quality for both traditional rainfed and irrigated US agriculture, including effects on yields, cropping patterns, and the risk of flood damage.
- The role of climate-related changes on the demand for water, including adoption of water-efficient agricultural practices, new technologies, new institutional arrangements, and other water conservation strategies, such as shifts in cropping and irrigation practices.
- Recent and ongoing agricultural reactions to drought and the role of water markets or government policies.
- Existing water quality permit markets and their impact on water supply.
- Strategies for expanding water supply, including the use of wastewater for irrigation, floodplain restoration, surface water storage, groundwater storage, and desalination.
- Risk management tools for responding to climate-related water risk, including crop insurance.
- Basin-level water management programs, groundwater management districts, and aquifer management programs more generally.
- Water demand and supply in non-agricultural uses, including urban uses and uses that promote environmental objectives, and how those uses affect agriculture and the allocation of water.
- Irrigation in U.S. agriculture and the impact of climate change on historical investments in agricultural infrastructure and on agricultural communities.
- The role of water markets in responding to changing demand and supply conditions associated with climate change and other shocks, and the impact of institutional innovation as well as constraints in these markets.
- The value of hydrological information, and the incentives for production of such information, in improving the allocation of water resources;
- Reactions to past droughts and the impact of water prices on crop choice, irrigation practices, and other related decisions.
The project directors welcome the submission of both theoretical and empirical research papers on these and related topics. Papers may analyze policies and distill the policy implications of new research findings, but in keeping with NBER restrictions, they may not make policy recommendations. Submissions from scholars who are in their early careers, with and without NBER affiliations, and or who are members of groups that have been under-represented in economics historically, are especially welcome.
To be considered for inclusion on the program, papers must be uploaded by midnight (EST) on Tuesday, January 18, 2022, to the following website:
Authors chosen to present papers at the conference will be notified in February, 2022.
Please do not submit papers that will be published by May 2022. Papers that are presented at the conference will be eligible for distribution in the NBER working paper series and they will be considered for inclusion in an edited conference proceedings volume that will be published by the University of Chicago Press. Authors will receive a modest honorarium for their participation in the project, subject to timely submission of a revised manuscript for the proceedings volume. Authors will have access to staff members at the Economic Research Service who may help to identify data sets and other research inputs.
The NBER will cover the cost of two authors per paper attending the research conference; all co-authors will be invited. The conference will be live-streamed to expand dissemination of the research findings. Questions about this conference may be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.