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Integrated scenarios to support analysis of the food–energy–water nexus


The literature emphasizes the important relationships between the consumption and production of food, energy and water, and environmental challenges such as climate change and loss of biodiversity. New tools are needed to analyse the future dynamics of this nexus. Here, we introduce a set of model-based scenarios and associated Sankey diagrams that enable analysis of the relevant relationships and dynamics, as well as the options to formulate response strategies. The scenarios show that if no new policies are adopted, food production and energy generation could further increase by around 60%, and water consumption by around 20% over the period 2015–2050, leading to further degradation of resources and increasing environmental pressure. Response strategies in terms of climate policies, higher agricultural yields, dietary change and reduction of food waste are analysed to reveal how they may contribute to reversing these trends, and possibly even lead to a reduction of land use in the future.

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Fig. 1: Resource consumption and associated impacts for the SSP2 reference and illustrative response scenarios over time.
Fig. 2: Sankey diagrams showing 2050 projections of the SSP2 baseline and response scenarios.
Fig. 3: Linkages between the different agriculture, energy and water systems.
Fig. 4: Options for change and their impact on resource consumption, land use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Data availability

The data relating to the scenarios described in this paper are available for download from The data supporting the figures are available from the IMAGE website at PBL (


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The research presented in this Analysis benefited from funding under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, under grant agreement no 689150 SIM4NEXUS and the PICASSO project (EU ERC, contract 819566).

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D.P.V.V. and D.L.B. designed the experiments. All authors contributed to the scenario analysis and the writing of the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Detlef P. Van Vuuren.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–3, Table 1 and references.

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Van Vuuren, D.P., Bijl, D.L., Bogaart, P. et al. Integrated scenarios to support analysis of the food–energy–water nexus. Nat Sustain 2, 1132–1141 (2019).

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