Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute


Date of this Version


Document Type



Chapter 2 of On Target for People and Planet: Setting and Achieving Water-Related Sustainable Development Goals, pp. 9-12. Julie van der Bliek, Peter McCornick, and James Clarke (eds.). Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute, 2014.


Copyright 2014 International Water Management Institute. Used by permission.


The proposed SDGs on water, food and energy security all include targets on increasing efficiencies. Yet the water–food–energy nexus has multiple dimensions that, if managed in isolation, will compromise a nation’s ability to achieve the full portfolio of SDGs.

Climate change introduces additional uncertainties, further increasing tensions between sectors for access to water. Conventional energy and food production are emitters of greenhouse gases, but measures to reduce emissions—including renewable energy interventions, such as subsidies for biofuel production—can have adverse consequences on food prices.

To achieve desirable and sustainable outcomes for water, food, and energy requires investigating these elements as an integrated whole, across sectors and scales. The nexus approach is part of broader systems thinking; it features a pragmatic focus on the relatively limited number of policy choices that are constrained by political realities. This approach recognizes and minimizes trade-offs, builds synergies, and increases resource use efficiencies.