Debate around increasing demand for natural resources is often framed in terms of a ‘nexus’, which is perhaps at risk of becoming a buzz word. A nexus between what? Over what scales? And what are the consequences of such a nexus? This article analyses why readers should care about the nexus concept in relation to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We discuss a five-nodes definition and propose perspectives that may lead to a reload of climate policy with buy-in from supply-chain managers and resource-rich developing countries. Our research perspectives address modelling approaches and scenarios at the interface of bio-physical inputs and the human dimensions of security and governance.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Le Blanc, D. Towards integration at last? The sustainable development goals as a network of targets. Sustain. Dev. 23, 176–187 (2015).
Bleischwitz, R., Hoff, H., Spataru, C., Van der Voet, E. & VanDeveer, S. D. (eds) Routledge Handbook of the Resource Nexus (Routledge, London, 2018). This comprehensive and up-to-date book presents a detailed international review of current knowledge and thinking on the resource nexus from an inter-disciplinary perspective, with 32 chapters addressing tools and metrics, modelling, political economy, a number of cases across different scales, and governance responses.
Hoff, H. Understanding the Nexus (Stockholm Environment Institute, 2011).
Andrews-Speed, P. et al. The Global Resource Nexus: The Struggles for Land, Energy, Food, Water, and Minerals 90 (Transatlantic Academy, Washington DC, 2012).
Andrews-Speed, P. et al. Want, Waste or War?: The Global Resource Nexus and the Struggle for Land, Energy, Food, Water and Minerals (Routledge/Earthscan, London, 2015).
Green, J. M. H. et al. Research priorities for managing the impacts and dependencies of business upon food, energy, water and the environment. Sustain. Sci. 12, 319–331 (2016).
Cairns, R. & Krzywoszynska, A. Anatomy of a buzzword: The emergence of ‘the water–energy–food nexus’ in UK natural resource debates. Environ. Sci. Policy 64, 164–170 (2016).
Scientific buzzwords obscure meaning. Nature 538, 140 (2016).
Graedel, T. E. & v. d. Voet, E. Linkages of Sustainability (MIT Press, Cambridge, 2010).
Wichelns, D. The water–energy–food nexus: Is the increasing attention warranted, from either a research or policy perspective? Environ. Sci. Policy 69, 113–123 (2017).
Nilsson, M., Griggs, D. & Visbeck, M. Map the interactions between Sustainable Development Goals. Nature 534, 320–323 (2016).
Bazilian, M. et al. Considering the energy, water and food nexus: Towards an integrated modelling approach. Energy Policy 39, 7896–7906 (2011).
Howells, M. & Rogner, H.-H. Water–energy nexus: Assessing integrated systems. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 246–247 (2014).
Ringler, C., Bhaduri, A. & Lawford, R. The nexus across water, energy, land and food (WELF): potential for improved resource use efficiency? Curr. Opinion Environ. Sustain. 5, 617–624 (2013).
Sharmina, M. et al. A nexus perspective on competing land demands: Wider lessons from a UK policy case study. Environ. Sci. Policy 59, 74–84 (2016).
Obersteiner, M. et al. Assessing the land resource–food price nexus of the Sustainable Development Goals. Sci. Adv. 2, e1501499 (2016).
Mo, W. & Zhang, Q. Energy–nutrients–water nexus: Integrated resource recovery in municipal wastewater treatment plants. J. Environ. Manage. 127, 255–267 (2013).
Tokimatsu, K. et al. Energy modeling approach to the global energy–mineral nexus: A first look at metal requirements and the 2 °C target. Appl. Energy 207, 494–509 (2017).
Bringezu, S. & Bleischwitz, R. (eds) Sustainable Resource Management: Global Trends, Visions and Policies (Greanleaf Publishing, Yorkshire, 2009).
Wiedmann, T. O. et al. The material footprint of nations. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 6271–6276 (2013).
Bleischwitz, R. International economics of resource productivity — Relevance, measurement, empirical trends, innovation, resource policies. Int. Econ. Econ. Policy 7, 227–244 (2010).
Wilting, H. & Hanemaaijer, A. Share of Raw Material Costs in Total Production Costs (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague, 2014).
Hertwich, E. et al. Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials (UNEP, Nairobi, 2010).
Dodds, F., Bartram, J. (eds). The Water, Food, Energy and Climate Nexus: Challenges and an Agenda for Action (Earthscan, Routledge, London, 2016).
Liu, J. et al. Systems integration for global sustainability. Science 347, 1258832 (2015).
Mukherji, A. The energy–irrigation nexus and its impact on groundwater markets in eastern Indo-Gangetic basin: Evidence from West Bengal, India. Energy Pol. 35, 6413–6430 (2007).
Rasul, G. Food water, and energy security in South Asia: A nexus perspective from the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. Environ. Sci. Pol. 39, 35–48 (2014).
Water, Food and Energy Nexus in Asia and the Pacific (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, 2014).
Siddiqi, A. & Anadon, L. D. The water–energy nexus in Middle East and North Africa. Energy Pol. 39, 4529–4540 (2011).
Conway, D. et al. Climate and southern Africa’s water–energy–food nexus. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 837–846 (2015).
Lee, B., Preston, F., Kooroshy, J., Bailey, R. & Lahn, G. Resources Futures (Chatham House, London, 2012).
Adger, W. N. et al. in Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (eds Field, C. B. et al.) 755–791 (IPCC, Cambridge University Press, 2014).
Lockwood, A. H. Heat Advisory: Protecting Health on a Warming Planet (MIT Press, Cambridge, 2016).
Ostrom, E. Beyond markets and states: Polycentric governance of complex economic systems. Am. Econ. Rev. 100, 641–672 (2010).
Johnson, C. & VanDeveer, S. D. in Routledge Handbook of the Resource Nexus (eds R. Bleischwitz et al.) 50–62 (Routledge, 2018).
Cairns, R., Wilsdon, J. & O’Donovan, C. Sustainability in Turbulent Times: Lessons from the Nexus Network for Supporting Transdisciplinary Research (The Nexus Network UK, University of Sussex, 2017). This is the concluding ‘lessons learned’ paper from the UK nexus network with special relevance for setting up, managing and funding transdisciplinary research and capacity building.
Calder, I. R. Blue Revolution: Integrated Land and Water Resource Management (Earthscan, London, 2005).
Verchot, L. V. et al. Climate change: linking adaptation and mitigation through agroforestry. Mitig. Adapt. Strategies Global Change 12, 901–918 (2007).
Allwood, J. M. Transitions to material efficiency in the UK steel economy. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 371, 20110577 (2013).
Schroeder, P., Anggraeni, K. & Weber, U. The relevance of circular economy practices to the Sustainable Development Goals. J. Ind. Ecol. https://doi.org/10.1111/jiec.12732 (2018).
Dobbs, R., Oppenheim, J., Thompson, F., Brinkman, M. & Zornes, M. Resource Revolution: Meeting the World’s Energy, Materials, Food, and Water Needs (McKinsey Global Institute, New York, 2011).
Ellen MacArthur Foundation & McKinsey & Co. Towards the Circular Economy: Accelerating the Scale-up Across Global Supply Chains (World Economic Forum, Geneva, 2014).
Galli, A. et al. Integrating ecological, carbon and water footprint into a “Footprint Family” of indicators: Definition and role in tracking human pressure on the planet. Ecol. Indicators 16, 100–112 (2012).
Schaffartzik, A. et al. The global metabolic transition: Regional patterns and trends of global material flows, 1950–2010. Global Environ. Change 26, 87–97 (2014).
Hatfield-Dodds, S. et al. Australia is ‘free to choose’ economic growth and falling environmental pressures. Nature 527, 49–53 (2015).
Biggs, E. M. et al. Sustainable development and the water–energy–food nexus: A perspective on livelihoods. Environ. Sci. Policy 54, 389–397 (2015). This paper makes a strong pledge on the relevance of livelihoods for nexus research, thus complementing the various research realms about quantitative tools and planning.
Nickless, E. Resourcing future generations: A global effort to meet the world’s future needs head-on. Eur. Geol. 42, 46–50 (2016).
Environmental Pressures from European Consumption and Production: A Study in Integrated Environmental and Economic Analysis (European Environment Agency, Copenhagen, 2013).
Karan, E., Asadi, S., Mohtar, R. & Baawain, M. Towards the optimization of sustainable food–energy–water systems: A stochastic approach. J. Cleaner Prod. 171, 662–674 (2018).
Kurian, M. The water–energy–food nexus: Trade-offs, thresholds and transdisciplinary approaches to sustainable development. Environ. Sci. Policy 68, 97–106 (2017). This paper represents well the nexus interface between research on ecoystems and public services providing some statistical tools and insights into governance.
Vivanco, D., Wang, R. & Hertwich, E. Nexus strength: A novel metric for assessing the global resource nexus. J. Ind. Ecol. 22, 1473–1486 (2017).
Torres, A., Brandt, J., Lear, K. & Liu, J. A looming tragedy of the sand commons. Science 357, 970–971 (2017).
Pauliuk, S., Arvesen, A., Stadler, K. & Hertwich, E. G. Industrial ecology in integrated assessment models. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 13–20 (2017).
Calzadilla, A. et al. Climate change impacts on global agriculture. Climatic Change 120, 357–374 (2013).
Daher, B. T. & Mohtar, R. H. Water–energy–food (WEF) Nexus Tool 2.0: guiding integrative resource planning and decision-making. Water Int. 40, 748–771 (2015).
Flammini, A., Puri, M., Pluschke, L. & Dubois, O. Walking the Nexus Talk: Assessing the Water–Energy–Food Nexus in the Context of the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 2014).
Daher, B. et al. Developing socio-techno-economic-political (STEP) solutions for addressing resource nexus hotspots. Sustainability 10, 512 (2018). This paper analyses resource systems across scales; it comes up with excellent questions about criticality, and develops insights into scenarios (‘Iterative 3-Filter STEP Framework for Vetting WEF Nexus Scenarios’).
Daher, B., Mohtar, R. H., Lee, S. H. & Assi, A. in Water–Energy–Food Nexus: Principles and Practices Vol. 229 (eds Abdul Salam, P. et al.) 57–67 (Wiley, London, 2017).
Pulver, S. & VanDeveer, S. D. “Thinking about tomorrows”: Scenarios, global environmental politics, and social science scholarship. Global Environ. Pol. https://doi.org/10.1162/glep.2009.9.2.1 (2009).
Stephan, R. M. et al. Water–energy–food nexus: a platform for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. Water Int. 43, 472–479 (2018).
Pauliuk, S., Wang, T. & Müller, D. B. Steel all over the world: Estimating in-use stocks of iron for 200 countries. Res. Conserv. Recycling 71, 22–30 (2013).
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Bleischwitz, R., Spataru, C., VanDeveer, S.D. et al. Resource nexus perspectives towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Nat Sustain 1, 737–743 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-018-0173-2
Geography and Sustainability (2020)
Legitimating the governance of embodied emissions as a building block for sustainable energy transitions
Global Transitions (2020)
Transforming the coal and steel nexus for China's eco‐civilization: Interplay between rail and energy infrastructure
Journal of Industrial Ecology (2020)
Energy System Pathways with Low Environmental Impacts and Limited Costs: Minimizing Climate Change Impacts Produces Environmental Cobenefits and Challenges in Toxicity and Metal Depletion Categories
Environmental Science & Technology (2020)
Nature Sustainability (2020)