Appraising the water-energy-food nexus from a sustainable development perspective: a maturing paradigm

A. P. Hejnowicz*, J.P.R. Thorn, M.E. Giraudo, J.B. Sallach, S.E. Hartley, J. Grugel, S.G. Pueppke, L. Emberson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Downloads (Pure)


The water-energy-food (WEF) nexus is a prominent approach for addressing today's sustainable development challenges. In our critical appraisal of the WEF, covering different approaches, drivers, enablers, and applications, we emphasise the situation across the Global South (Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean). Here, WEF research covers at least 23 focal domains. We find that the nexus is still a maturing paradigm primarily rooted in a physical and natural sciences framing, which is itself embedded in a neoliberal securities narrative. While providing insights and tools to address the systemic interdependencies between resource sectors whose exploitation, degradation, and sub-optimal management contribute to (un)sustainable development, there is still insufficient engagement with social, political, and economic dimensions. Progress related to climate, urbanisation, and resource consumption is encouraging, but while governance and finance are central enablers of current and future nexus systems, gaps remain in relation to implementation and operationalisation. Harnessing the nexus for sustainable development across the Global South means recognising that it is more than a biophysical system, but also a multi-scale complex of people, institutions, and infrastructure, affected by history and context. Addressing this complexity requires alternative and possibly challenging perspectives to counter dominant narratives, and manage problems associated with policy integration, trade-offs, and winners and losers. We outline ten emergent research areas that we think can contribute to this endeavour and enable the nexus to be a stronger policy force.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021EF002622
Number of pages34
JournalEarth's Future
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2022


  • Nexus
  • Water-energy-food
  • Governance
  • Policy
  • Social science
  • Sustainable development


Dive into the research topics of 'Appraising the water-energy-food nexus from a sustainable development perspective: a maturing paradigm'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this