The Water-Energy-Food-Carbon Nexus

Dr Enda Hayes

This research looks the implications of water-energy-food security and systems on carbon emissions and sustainable future cities and populations. The ‘water-energy-food nexus’ has been identified as a key area of importance in a world of increasing demand for both services, and increasing urbanization (Global Carbon Project, 2012), and this research intends to contribute to the knowledge bases and understanding of how these interactions play out.

Past research and understanding on drivers, processes and implications of the Water-Energy-Food-Carbon nexus is limited, particularly so in cities. Given their unique characteristics, and projections that 70% of world population will be urban dwellers by 2050 (UN World Urbanization Prospects, 2012), cities are key places in which to analyse and understand this nexus in the present, and how it might evolve under different future scenarios. Additionally, the challenging nature of managing the water-energy-food nexus is exemplified by specific activities which place increased stresses on either energy or water or food and therefore potentially create an imbalance in the nexus e.g. the water demands/impacts on water quality by unconventional gas (i.e. fracking) or the embedded carbon and water in our food systems.

How efficiently cities, and by association society, manage this nexus will greatly contribute to global sustainability efforts. Research and activity to improve energy-water-food security and supply must take account of the global discourse of ‘carbon management’. As populations continue to increase as projected and climate change commitments strengthen, meeting increasing water needs must be balanced with the need to reduce emissions. Understanding, quantifying and qualifying these interrelationships and processes is vital for future resilient and sustainable urban systems.

Led by Dr Enda Hayes, elements of the nexus challenge are currently being explored across a number of activities:

  1. Understanding the water implications for unconventional gas exploration in the UK (Jenna Brown).
  2. Quantifying low-carbon, equitable nexus-friendly futures for the Bristol region (Aleksandra (Ola) Michalec).
  3. Enhancing effective governance of coastal resources (Natasha Bradshaw).
  4. Supporting the development of public engagement activities on Food Security – part of The Crunch programme funded by the Wellcome Trust (Enda Hayes).
  5. Evaluating the connectivity between water, energy and social deprivation at a city scale (Enda Hayes).