Skip to content
BY-NC-ND 3.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access December 17, 2015

Connecting cities and their environments: Harnessing the water-energy-food nexus for sustainable urban development

Arthur Chan


Thousands of years of development have made the production and consumption of water, energy, and food for urban environments more complex. While the rise of cities has fostered social and economic progress, the accompanying environmental pressures threaten to undermine these benefits. The compounding effects of climate change, habitat loss, pollution, overexploitation (in addition to financial constraints) make the individual management of these three vital resources incompatible with rapidly growing populations and resource-intensive lifestyles. Nexus thinking is a critical tool to capture opportunities for urban sustainability in both industrialised and developing cities. A nexus approach to water, energy, and food security recognises that conventional decisionmaking, strictly confined within distinct sectors, limits the sustainability of urban development. Important nexus considerations include the need to collaborate with a wide spectrum of stakeholders, and to “re-integrate” urban systems. This means recognising the opportunities coming from the interconnected nature of cities and metropolitan regions, including links with rural environments and wider biophysical dynamics.


[1] Hertwich E.G., van der Voet E., Suh S., Tukker A., Huijbregts M., Kazmierczyk P., et al., Assessing the environmental impacts of consumption and production: Priority products and materials, United Nations Environment Programme, 2010, in Google Scholar

[2] Atkinson A., NEXUS initiatives to improve resource management amongst the urban poor, International Conference Sustainability in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus. Synergies and Trade-offs: Governance and Tools at Various Scales (19-20 May 2014, Bonn, Germany), in Google Scholar

[3] Shustera W.D., Bontab J., Thurstona H., Warnemuendec E., Smith D.R., Impacts of impervious surface on watershed hydrology: A review, Urban Water Journal, 2005, in Google Scholar

[4] Lowrey A., World Bank revamping is rattling employees, The New York Times, 27 May 2014, in Google Scholar

[5] Howells M., Rogner H.H., Water-energy nexus: Assessing integrated systems, Nature Climate Change, 2014, 4, 246-247, in Google Scholar

[6] Hoff H., Understanding the nexus, Stockholm Environment Institute, 2011, in Google Scholar

[7] UN-‐ Habitat, Urban patterns for a green economy: Optimizing infrastructure, UNON Publishing Services Section, Nairobi, 2012, in Google Scholar

Received: 2014-6-24
Accepted: 2015-9-30
Published Online: 2015-12-17
Published in Print: 2015-1-1

© 2015

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License.

Scroll Up Arrow