Embedding the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Into Energy Systems Analysis: Expanding the Food–Energy–Water Nexus

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Niet, T., Arianpoo, N., Kuling, K., & Wright, A. S. (2021). Embedding the United Nations sustainable development goals into energy systems analysis: Expanding the food–energy–water nexus. Energy, Sustainability and Society, 11(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13705-020-00275-0.

Date created: 
DOI: 10.1186/s13705-020-00275-0
Energy modelling
UN sustainable development goals
Food–water–energy nexus


There have been numerous studies that consider the nexus interactions between energy systems, land use, water use and climate adaptation and impacts. These studies have filled a gap in the literature to allow for more effective policymaking by considering the trade-offs between land use, energy infrastructure as well as the use of water for agriculture and providing energy services. Though these studies fill a significant gap in the modelling literature, we argue that more work is needed to effectively consider policy trade-offs between the 17 United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) to avoid missing important interactions.



We examine the 17 SDGs individually to determine if it should be included in a modelling framework and the challenges of doing so. We show that the nexus of climate, land, energy and water needs to be expanded to consider economic well-being of both individuals and the greater economy, health benefits and impacts, as well as land use in terms of both food production and in terms of sustaining ecological diversity and natural capital. Such an expansion will allow energy systems models to better address the trade-offs and synergies inherent in the SDGs. Luckily, although there are some challenges with expanding the nexus in this way, we feel the challenges are generally modest and that many model structures can already incorporate many of these factors without significant modification.


Finally, we argue that SDGs 16 and 17 cannot be met without open-source models and open data to allow for transparent analysis that can be used and reused with a low cost of entry for modellers from less well-off nations.



To effectively address the SDGs, there is a need to expand the common definition of the nexus of climate, land, energy, and water to include the synergies and trade-offs of health impacts, ecological diversity and the system requirements for human and environmental well-being. In most cases, expanding models to be able to incorporate these factors will be relatively straight forward, but open models and analysis are needed to fully support the SDGs.

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