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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Sustainable resource management and the water-energy-land food nexus: A case study of Spain

Water, energy, land, and food resources are essential to thriving societies. However, natural resource systems are under increasing pressures due to growing resource demands, climate change, and ecological degradation. The water-energy-land-food nexus approach considers the interdependencies between resource systems with the aim of minimising trade-offs between resource sectors and reducing resource overuse. The importance of resource systems is apparent in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework, but investigations into the relevance of SDGs targets and indicators to the resource nexus are limited. In this study, the stresses across the resource nexus that arise out of water, energy, land, and food strategies are explored, as well as the connections between the resource nexus and the SDGs. This research examines a case study of the water-energy-land-food nexus in Spain, and addresses gaps in the existing literature regarding water uses across sectors and renewable energy considerations within the nexus.

Through analysis of (1) literature, (2) system interactions via a causal loop diagram, and (3) system interactions via quantitative methods, a multitude of constraints across the resource nexus in Spain emerge. Strategies surrounding water stress, renewable energy expansions, and sustainable agriculture are explored in detail. It is found that despite evolving resource management practices in Spain, strategies continue to cause stresses across the resource nexus. This study determines that supply-side resource strategies risk generating further resource demands and inevitably result in trade-offs across the resource nexus. Additionally, it is shown that contradictions and trade-offs exist between goals of the SDGs, and that sustainable resource management must take these into consideration.

In bringing together the various forms of analysis, the resource nexus is examined from a systems perspective and two leverage points for sustainable resource management are identified. The first is a shift towards demand-side strategies, accompanied by a shift in the goal of the resource nexus towards resource services that support human well-being. The second is a paradigm shift, from a mentality of resource extraction and exploitation towards appreciation for the dependence of human societies on natural systems.

The results of this study highlight the need for increased communication and collective management between resource sectors. The natural processes that support the delivery of water, energy, land, and food services are facing increasing stresses, and the resource nexus approach enables more sustainable resource management.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.