Using the IPAT identity and decoupling analysis to estimate water footprint variations for five major food crops in China from 1978 to 2010

Yuanhong Tian*, Matthias Ruth, Dajian Zhu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Evaluations of water footprint (WF) used to enhance performance of policies on water utilization will benefit from combining WF analysis with methods from sustainability analysis. For this purpose, this paper analyzes the WF of China’s five main food crops, which together account for roughly 33 % of the nation’s water consumption. We assess distributional equity at the provincial scale and use the IPAT identity and a decoupling analysis to assess the scale of both national and provincial WF consumption, the factors influencing the WF fluctuation, and the efficiency of water allocation. Results show that although it is difficult in the short term to end the unsustainable WFs of China’s five main food crops, more efficient allocation can be achieved through appropriate agricultural policy modification. In the long term, distributional equity at the provincial level must be the key factor in achieving sustainable agriculture in China.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2355-2375
Number of pages21
JournalEnvironment, Development and Sustainability
Issue number6
Early online date27 Sep 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Decoupling analysis
  • Food crops
  • IPAT equation
  • Sustainability analysis
  • Water footprint

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