This paper was originally published in Water, Energy, Food and People Across the Global South.
“The demand for water, food and energy is steadily increasing with growth expected at 30–50 percent in the next two decades (World Economic Forum, Water Security, The Water, Energy, Food and Climate Change Nexus, 2011). Balancing the elements of the water, energy and food nexus with climate change and its impacts on the availability of water for drinking, food production and changes in energy consumption is complex and challenging (Thirlwell et al., Energy–Water Nexus: Energy Use in the Municipal, Industrial, and Agricultural Water Sectors. Developed for the Canada–U.S. Water Conference, Washington DC, October 2, 2007; Waughray (ed.), Water security: The Water–Food–Energy–Climate Nexus, 2011; Bazilian et al., Energy Policy 39(12):7896–7906, 2012; Van Vuuren et al., Curr Opin Environ Sustain 4:18–34, 2012).
Economic interests often favor short-term responses in production and consumption but, in turn, undermine long-term sustainability. Understanding the interconnections between water, energy and food using an ecosystem service approach offers a system-wide framework to achieve sustainable water, energy and food security given scarce resources. Natural capital accounting (NCA) integrates ecosystem services offering a means to identify, quantify and value ecosystem services (in monetary and non-monetary terms), leading to better decision-making for managing, preserving and restoring the natural environment (Voora and Venema, The Natural Capital Approach: A Concept Paper. International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2008).
The United Nations (UN) System of Environmental-Economic Accounting for water is one example of translating biophysical water-related data into economic terms to improve decision outcomes for water. Energy reliability is closely linked to ecosystems given natural resource dependencies on the supply side and environmental degradation on the demand side. NCA encourages resiliency in energy systems using an integrated approach of environmental, economic, technical and social aspects. Given current and future demands, agricultural development requires a whole system approach. NCA is one tool that helps to bring together an integrated ecosystem perspective to agriculture. Developing robust systems of natural capital accounting in order to determine the contribution of ecosystem services to the water, energy and food nexus, and ultimately human well-being, is important if we are to realize the stated goals and targets of the UN’s Agenda 2030…”