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Change and Adaptation in Socio-Ecological Systems: Topical Issue on Sustainability in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus

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Sina Marx
Anik Bhaduri
Anna Schürkmann
Talin Rose Klemeit


Today, the amplified interconnectedness of global food, energy, water security and environmental sustainability calls for joint global responsibility and cooperation among scientists and policy makers to mediate tradeoffs and explore synergies. It has been recognized that efforts addressing only one part of a systemic problem by neglecting other inherently inter-linked aspects may not lead to desirable and sustainable outcomes. In this perspective, policy- and decision- making requires a nexus approach that reduces tradeoffs and builds synergies across sectors, and help to reduce costs and increase benefits for humans and nature compared to independent approaches to the management of water, energy, food and the environment. 

Recognizing the urgent need for work along the governance and tool challenges to advance the Water- Energy- Food (W-E-F) Nexus at different scales, the international conference “Sustainability in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus - Synergies and Tradeoffs: Governance and Tools at various Scales” was held in Bonn, Germany on 19 – 20 May 2014. The conference was jointly organized by Global Water System Project (GWSP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), German Development Institute (DIE), Center for Development Research (ZEF) and CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE). Identifying sustainability in the WEF Nexus as a key research-for-action initiative, the conference facilitated internal policy consultation processes to inform, influence, and catalyzes action by key actors including policymakers, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, educators, and researchers. The conference brought together available information, identify knowledge and action gaps, share lessons on viable instruments and approaches, facilitate networks, and contribute to a consensus on priorities for appropriate investment and action by different actors and stakeholders for moving toward implementation of the W-E-F Nexus.

Following the conference, a summer academy with the objective to improve communication of research findings to scientific and political communities, media and the public took place in Bonn from 21 – 23 May. The Summer Academy targeted early career scientists at the pre- and early post-doctoral level. All participants of the Summer Academy attended the conference and, along with a senior scientist and the session chair served as rapporteur in each session. Collaboratively they produce short summaries of each session.

A compilation of short articles summarizing key findings of the different sessions is envisioned as one of the major product of the conference, with the aim of making the contents of the conference accessible for a broad audience. This reflects the underlying principle of the conference, which explicitly includes representatives from the scientific and political community, the private sector and the public.


More detailed information on the conference and the summer academy is available on http://wef-conference.gwsp.org/.

The articles cover the following session topics:

WEF- Nexus, Environment and Well-being:

  • Environment and Wellbeing: The Role of Ecosystems in the Nexus
  • Ecosystems and their Services in the Nexus
  • Sustainability in the WEF - Nexus: an environmental resources perspective
  • The Nexus and Climate Change Adaptation

Concepts for Governance and Management of the Nexus

  • The need for horizontal and vertical coordination in governing the WEF-Nexus
  • Governance Structures and Institutional Capacities
  • Agriculture, biofuels, and watersheds: Nexus governance challenges at local and global scales
  • The Water-Energy Nexus in Shared River Basins: How hydro-power shapes cooperation and coordination
  • Improving the Interface between Policy-Science - lessons learnt and future challenges
  • Institutional Capacity Development for Advancing the Nexus Approach

Implementation of the WEF- Nexus at various Scales:

  • Trans-Boundary Challenges and Solutions
  • Local and Regional Perspectives
  • Nexus Implementation Pathways in River Basins - Political, economic and community narratives for action
  • Making the Nexus Work in Cities - Urban Natural Resource Management

Tools for Sustainable Implementation of the WEF - Nexus:

  • Earth Observations, Monitoring and Modelling for the Sustainable Implementation of the Nexus Approach
  • Instruments and Tools for Integrated Planning
  • Tools to Address Synergies, Trade-Offs and Resource Efficiency
  • Co-optimizing solutions for water and food - scoping the nexus challenges in the agro sector and finding scalable business solutions

Interdisciplinary Science for Eco-Innovations in the Interlinks between the Water, Energy and Land Sectors



  1. Editorial: Sustainability in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus by Sina Marx
  2. Earth Observations and Education for the Sustainable Implementation of the Nexus Approach by Holm Voigt
  3. Implementing the Water-Energy-Food Nexus at Various Scales: Trans-Boundary Challenges and Solutions by Nikolaus S. McLachlan
  4. Ecosystem Services for Meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Challenges and Pathways by Nazmul Huq
  5. Ecosystem Services in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus by Maksud Bekchanov, Claudia Ringler, Marc Mueller
  6. The Water - Energy - Food Nexus and Climate Change Adaptation by Talin Holtermann, K.D.W. Nandalal
  7. Tools for tackling the Water-Energy-Food Nexus by Edward A. Byers
  8. Governing the Nexus for Sustainability by Sina Marx
  9. Governance and Management of the Nexus: Structures and Institutional Capacities by Julie Snorek
  10. Implementing the nexus at various scales: Local and regional perspectives by Eefje Aarnoudse, Jan Leentvaar
  11. Connecting cities and their environments: Harnessing the water-energy-food nexus for sustainable urban development by Arthur Chan
  12. Agriculture, biofuels and watersheds in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus: Governance challenges at local and global scales by Joseph T.Mwale, Alisher Mirzabaev
  13. The Need for Policy Coordination in Governing the Water-Energy-Food Nexus by Johannes Halbe, Kathrin Knüppe
  14. Water-Energy Nexus in Shared River Basins: How Hydropower Shapes Cooperation and Coordination by Phimthong Kouangpalath, Karen Meijer
  15. Developing Capacities for Implementing the Water-Energy-Food Nexus by Sarah Czunyi, Djiby Racine Thiam
  16. Co-Optimizing Solutions for Water and Food - Scoping the Nexus Challenges in the Agro-Sector and finding Scalable Business Solutions by Animesh Kumar Gain, Dinesh Kumar, Joppe Cramwinckel, Julie Oesterlé
  17. Approaches to resource management for the nexus by Navneet Kumar, Nicolas Gerb