There are currently no policies that provide genuinely integrated management of water, energy, food and land. A more coherent policy approach is needed, shows research.

Policy implications

  • There are currently no policies that provide genuinely integrated management of water, energy, food and land. For instance, the UK Water Act 2014 does not refer to implications for energy or land use.
  • Some progress has been achieved towards integrated 'nexus thinking' across sectors in land management - for example, the UK National Ecosystem Assessment Follow-on and the State of Natural Capital reports published in 2014. However, progress towards more integrated policymaking is too slow to match the rate of the ongoing environmental and demographic changes. It is essential to develop alternative ways of providing dynamic decision support for policymakers.
  • UK policies need to expand strategic planning below the national level to consider implications at regional and local levels. Interdependencies need to be assessed at a number of levels and scales, in order to achieve coherent long-term policies.
  • A land-use strategy should integrate a wide range of ecosystem services, including the introduction of non-monetary, physical-unit constraints on the use of particular services.

Overview

Land provides a wide range of goods and services to the UK economy and society in general. An increasing challenge for policymakers is how to manage the multiple demands placed on land, both now and into the future.

Despite the close links between water, energy and food-related sectors, most land-use policies remain compartmentalised, focusing exclusively on food or energy and rarely taking the competing demands of other sectors into account. Disjointed policies and planning trajectories have resulted in water, energy and food being dealt with separately, and often in direct competition.

There is a failure to recognise how actions and planning decisions in one sector can lead to substantial, and potentially severe, consequences for another, argue the authors of the briefing paper The nexus in a changing climate. The researchers highlight the need for joined-up thinking – looking more widely at the whole 'water-energy-food nexus' to explore knock-on effects across different sectors when introducing new factors.

The briefing paper explores the potential of more integrated decision-making for resilient land-use planning. In the medium to long term (ten years and beyond), insular and short-sighted focus of land-use policy is likely to jeopardise the UK's resilience to climate change impacts, the authors argue. The absence of an overarching land-use vision suggests that longer-term interactions and interdependencies between sectors are ignored.

Key research points

  • A lack of joined-up assessment across sectors is widespread in current analyses and policies. For example, the UK 2012 Bioenergy Strategy does not detail how bioenergy targets will affect land/food/water sectors more widely.
  • Land models and tools often cover national or regional scales, but do not provide guidance for management at a local level - failing to reflect local capacity or contribute to local goals and visions.
  • There is also a lack of focus on how UK policies affect other countries, raising concerns about international equity.
  • Trade-offs between generations are typically neglected when designing and implementing policies affecting land use.
  • A short-term horizon is essential for avoiding 'policy lock-in' (for instance when committing to infrastructure investments), but longer-term considerations across all related sectors are also crucial.

Brief description of the research

The nexus in a changing climate: a critique of competing demands for UK land is a Nexus Network paper exploring the interdependencies of the 'water-energy-food nexus', focusing on land use and ways of developing more coherent policies that prioritise among competing demands.