In social-ecological systems, natural resource management can be characterized by trade-offs across sectors and sustainability targets. The water-energy-food (WEF) nexus concept makes explicit various trade-offs in order to maximize synergies of interventions. However, there are few successful examples of its operationalization in research settings. Here, we explore in a learning setting if sustainability impact assessment (SIA) protocols can be a useful process to be used to adopt a systemic, interdisciplinary perspective to operationalize WEF nexus in research for sustainable development. The process and method adopted of SIA protocol, evaluated for five exemplary WEF nexus cases in Central Asia during a week-long international workshop, adequately addressed the complexity of WEF interrelationships and associated sustainability issues, and facilitated a comparative case study analysis across scales. Results within this process highlight that water governance was critical for large-scale transboundary WEF nexus management, while land and soil management were decisive for minimizing trade-offs at local levels. Issues of interdisciplinarity, complexity, uncertainty, and reflection on impacts were adequately addressed, but challenges remain in the consideration of ethics and the design of transparent, multi-actor cooperation. Most importantly, this exercise showed that employment of the process of SIA protocol supported disciplinary experts to work across disciplines and take a systemic approach for analyzing WEF nexus.
Hamidov, A., Daedlow, K., Webber, H., Hussein, H., Abdurahmanov, I., Dolidudko, A., ... & Helming, K. (2022). Operationalizing water-energy-food nexus research for sustainable development in social-ecological systems: an interdisciplinary learning case in Central Asia. Ecology and Society, 27(1).
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