The water-energy-food nexus: Trade-offs, thresholds and transdisciplinary approaches to sustainable development

Mathew Kurian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

187 Scopus citations


Global challenges have exacerbated a search for solutions to poverty and environmental degradation. Integration it was argued would help address the twin challenge. Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) was supposed to be that magic bullet and was embraced by scientists because of the clinical efficiency with which it argued for integrated analysis of sectors and resources and of systems and scale conditions. This paper argues that effective implementation of the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus can be supported by robust science. The corollary that robust science automatically leads to effective implementation is not always known to be true. The nexus approach sheds light on the challenges of implementation by introducing concepts of trade-offs and thresholds and consequently emphasizes the importance of transdisciplinary approaches to sustainable development. This paper reviews the results of recent research to offer tentative answers to the following questions: (a) Why is the governance dimension important to undertake an integrated analysis of water-energy-food challenges? (b) What does the nexus approach connote in normative and institutional terms? (c) What does implementation mean in nexus terms? (d) How can we establish if the nexus approach is an improvement over business as usual? and (e) What tools are available that would enable translation of results of scientific research to create an evidence base that would enable decision makers to act in support of sustainable development?

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-106
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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