Demand for water, energy, and food (WEF) is increasing with global population growth. The WEF Nexus describes the interacting interplay between different sectors by which exploitation of one resource may negatively impact others. Efficient and sustainable WEF resource management is urgently needed to enhance and maintain quality of life. This USRG is spearheading the advancement of understanding of how to develop WEF resources sustainably to benefit societies and the environment.
This topic is of international importance (World Economic Forum 2011, 2014) and targets the need of societies globally. Economic success is dependent on WEF security and supply, despite ageing infrastructure, increased geopolitical insecurity, and the constraints of targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Water: Population growth places strain on inadequate distribution systems, resulting in nearly 1 billion people worldwide being unable to access safe drinking water and sanitation. In the UK, current infrastructure will be unable to cope with future demand that will exceed resource availability, particularly during drought exacerbated by climate change.
Energy: By 2020, 30% of the current UK electricity gas and existing infrastructure will be decommissioned. The UK needs to advance novel technology and install new infrastructure to mitigate for environmental impacts.
Food: All stocks of commercially important fish are predicted to collapse by 2050 at current rates of harvest. In the UK, agricultural resilience must be improved in the face of extreme climate events that will become more frequent and intense. The area of agricultural land in England and Wales at frequent risk of flooding is predicted to double by the 2050s and rise by more than 150% by the 2080s.
Defining and solving the challenges that emerge when exploiting WEF resources in combination requires integrating expertise from multiple disciplines. In-line with the University’s strategic Vision-2020, this USRG is providing a hub for collaborative interdisciplinary research to advance sustainable WEF resource development. As well as incorporating staff who carry out research in the WEF areas, staff within the University that have expertise in areas that provide common linkages or at the interfaces between WEF, including soils and ecosystem services are participating in this collaborative multidisciplinary effort.
Professor Paul Kemp (P.Kemp@soton.ac.uk)
Dr Joel Smethurst (J.A.Smethurst@soton.ac.uk)