Trends in the development of water-energy-food nexus methods
By Tamee Albrecht, Arica Crootof and Christopher Scott
Water, energy, and food security are intimately linked. The water-energy-food nexus provides a novel approach to address these complex cross-sectoral interactions, identify tradeoffs and synergies, improve resource-use efficiency, and internalize social and environmental impacts. However, it is proving challenging to both evaluate these cross-sectoral linkages and implement an integrated perspective in policy. To help advance the utility of a water-energy-food security nexus approach in policy, there is a need to (a) compile a knowledge base of multi-sectoral assessment tools, and (b) highlight innovative techniques that capture fundamental water, energy, and food interactions and support the development of integrated policy.
To address these needs, we conducted a comprehensive meta-analysis of the water-energy-food security nexus. We reviewed over 200 journal articles and book chapters that resulted from a Scopus keyword search. Fifty-four publications that present specific methods were identified and analyzed. In this article we present and substantiate three principal findings. First, the nexus framework is experiencing rapid growth in the scholarly literature, spanning disciplines as diverse as engineering, economics, hydrology, agronomy, and geography. These trends are accompanied by rapid expansion of nexus terminology in policy and practice. Second, use of explicit and reproducible methods for nexus assessment is uncommon; just one-quarter of nexus articles detail their methods, which include integrated resource assessment and modeling, tradeoff analysis, life-cycle and ‘footprint’ evaluation, Delphi techniques, and institutional analysis. Third, nexus articles frequently fall short of fully capturing the intersectoral interactions that define the nexus. Although nexus methods vary widely, only half of the methods proposed were interdisciplinary in nature, and even fewer utilized both quantitative and qualitative techniques. Further, robust methods designed to address nexus challenges are few – less than 20% of methods proposed were designed intently to explain nexus interactions across sectors.
We highlight trends in the development of robust nexus methods, including integrated models, transdisciplinary, mixed methods, and qualitative approaches. Further, we analyze studies that illustrate promising directions for the development and application of nexus methods. By synthesizing and expanding the knowledge base of water-energy-food nexus methods this paper provides integral information needed to advance understandings of nexus complexity and promote the development of effective, integrated resource-use policy.