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Publication // Sustainable development and the water-energy-food nexus: Legal challenges and emerging solutions

By Olawuyi, D. (2020). This paper delves into the various legal and institutional barriers and challenges the Water-Energy-Food Nexus faces on its way toward a broader implementation worldwide. This is an exercpt of the original article.


Traditionally water, energy and food (WEF) resources are governed in many countries by separate sets of laws, rules and institutions. However, recent studies have increasingly underlined the WEF nexus approach as a framework for coherent, holistic and integrated implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to address fragmentations and ensure cleaner and efficient production methods in each sector.

This article examines the legal and governance aspects of integrating and implementing the WEF nexus in practice. Various legal and institutional challenges that arise with a nexus approach, such as incompatibility of WEF nexus aims, limited rule linkages, institutional limitations and resource constraints are examined in order to identify the ways in which an integrative legal framework on WEF can help close these gaps.

The study suggests that enhanced levels of legislation and rule linkage; elaboration of common and shared principles by institutional actors in WEF domains; as well knowledge, expertise and information sharing on WEF-related decision making are significant steps towards advancing systemic and integrated governance of WEF resources.

Key messages

Given the interdependencies between water, energy and food sectors, the nexus approach provides an important framework for promoting a coherent, holistic and integrated implementation of the SDGs relating to WEF to avoid fragmentation and overlaps. The promotion of the WEF nexus at international, regional and national levels shows an increasing recognition of the importance of an integrative and multi-centric approach to WEF governance. However, to ensure that the WEF discourse moves from theory to successful practical integration and adoption, fragmented legal structures and sector-based programs that stifle the development and application of hybrid and linked rules, procedures and processes across the sectors will have to be comprehensively addressed.

Legal and institutional barriers to the implementation and adoption of a nexus approach to WEF governance can be addressed by linking policies, rules and/or legislation across the WEF domains to make them more coherent and streamlined. Furthermore, country-specific analyses of the costs, opportunities and risks of the integrative process and scenarios across WEF domains can provide better foundation for cross sector partnership and linkages amongst WEF institutions.

Regional cooperation and sharing of expertise, knowledge and best practices on WEF governance could also provide an effective platform to share best practices, challenges and cooperation opportunities with respect to WEF management. Education and skills development programs will also play important roles to help administrators understand legal and institutional aspects of the nexus approach.


January 2020


© The author.


Olawuyi, D. (2020). Sustainable development and the water-energy-food nexus: Legal challenges and emerging solutions.

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