Embracing the Water-Energy-Food Nexus

As we race toward the middle of the century, and the global population grows to around 9 billion, there will continue to be growing demand for our three lifelines: water, energy, and food.

For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN has reported that “Global energy consumption is projected to grow by close to 50 percent by 2035 and 80 percent by 2050.”

And if you read How Will We Feed Cities in 2050? you may also remember we’re expected to need an increase of 70 percent in our food supply in the same timeframe.

How will we face these immense challenges? Not by thinking about our lifelines separately, but as one holistic system called the Water-Energy-Food Nexus.

This is why FAO developed the nexus assessment as a tool for creating effective solutions related to the nexus. There are 3 guiding principles FAO urges us to consider.

The Guiding Principles

Image: Media Club

Considering Context

Different regions have different needs and issues related to water, energy, and food. Locations with drier climates are more vulnerable to drought and thus water may be the primary concern. Whereas other regions may be more energy or food strained. And effective solutions must take these contexts into account.

Both external and internal contexts need to be considered. External contexts include broad trends in population growth, urbanization, and climate change. Internal contexts include things like governance, sectoral policies, and vested interests.

Engaging Stakeholders

Water, energy, and food-related problems affect basically everyone and everything. The most effective solutions stem from engaging all parties involved, including policymakers, corporations, and the general public.

Tradeoffs Are Unavoidable

Biofuel crops are a classic example. While biofuels emit less carbon than fossil fuels, growing crops for fuel uses tons of energy, water, and land, leaving less of those resources for increasing the food supply.

These types of tradeoffs exist in every situation and must be weighted against each other in decision-making processes to achieve the best outcomes.

Nexus Thinking is Up to Us

Image: Asian Development Bank

Whether you’re a student researching global grand challenges, a policy maker concerned about resource management, or a cleantecher developing technology to assist in creating solutions, the nexus assessment can help us all better protect the resources we treasure.

Who could you share this tool with today that could use it as a guide to begin thinking more wisely about water, energy, and food? Forward this email to one friend you think would appreciate it.

Act on Climate

Enjoy this video from the World Economic Forum: This is the lazy person’s guide to saving the world.