Water-Energy-Food nexus in cities conference: Solving Urban Challenges Together

On May 12, 2022, we welcomed over 150 participants to the one-day international conference on 'Water-Energy-Food nexus in cities' organised by Closer Cities in close collaboration with several partners and experts. The conference concentrated on how improved urban knowledge sharing regarding the WEF-nexus can contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Between April and October 2022, the world horticulture expo Floriade is organised in the city of Almere, the Netherlands. This year’s theme is Growing Green Cities. In line with this theme, Closer Cities organised a one-day international conference on ‘Water-Energy-Food nexus in cities’ on May 12, 2022. The event revolved around Solving Urban Challenges Together, aligned with the philosophy of the Netherlands.

How do cities deal with challenging interdependencies between water, energy and food?

Food production related to efficient use of energy and water can be very challenging. The Water-Energy-Food nexus is full of complicated interdependencies. Decisions in one field will often have consequences for the other two. What if we manage to exchange effective projects? For obvious reasons, not every approach will be effective in any city due to various context variables.

During the one-day international conference on Water-Energy-Food nexus in cities, the focus lied on how improved urban knowledge sharing regarding the WEF-nexus can contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Experts and participants exchanged effective local approaches and discussed questions like: how can we scale up good practices? What role do context variables – like climate, city size, geography, and governance – play in the exchangeability of effective approaches? What can stimulate the co-creation of effective approaches? The experts represented various WEF-nexus related projects, such as accelerating climate ambitions in cities through public-private partnerships; adaptive horticulture in Dubai, UAE; farm of the future in Lelystad, Netherlands; training of farmers in Kumasi, Ghana; city-region food systems approach related to water, energy, food.

Day host Fiona Yauw interviewing Mr. Helal Uddin Ahmed

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Cities around the world deal with the WEF-nexus in various ways. The WEF-nexus conference reflected the importance of sustainability, and its challenges and opportunities were therefore related to the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals. According to the United Nations:

“The water-food-energy nexus is central to sustainable development. Demand for all three is increasing, driven by a rising global population, rapid urbanization, changing diets and economic growth. The inextricable linkages between these critical domains require a suitably integrated approach to ensuring water and food security, and sustainable agriculture and energy production worldwide”.

Roundtable discussions

The WEF-nexus conference was in fact an expert meeting (by invitation only), without keynote speeches as the organisers highlighted the importance of everyone being an expert in some way. The program concentrated on 3 rounds of small group discussions. Participants were enthusiastic about this set-up and appreciated the relatively long (45 minutes) time for in-depth and fruitful discussions in groups of 4-7 experts. There were in total 21 tables with all kinds of topics related to water management, energy supply, food production, and the interplay between these sectors. 

The three rounds were inspired by the three activities of Closer Cities: map, monitor and magnify. Round 1 identified (map) knowledge to share that helps achieve sustainable cities. Round 2 focused on how knowledge is being shared and which boosts and barriers play a role in these processes (monitor). Round 3 discussed the factors for making a city comparable enough to share with and actions to make sure that other cities can benefit from those experiences (magnify).

Key Takeaways from WEF-nexus conference

The first round uncovered (‘map’) which knowledge was present in the room and how these projects, experiences, and ideas of participants helped realise the SDGs. The day host Fiona Yauw interviewed Sandra Pellegrom (SDG coordinator, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and Gillian Martin Mehers (founder and CEO Bright Green Learning) about sustainability and sharing sustainable solutions. After the first round, a Mentimeter poll at the plenary wrap-up showed that people joined the conference not to just bring (11%) or get (27%) knowledge but to share both ways (60%).  

The second round tried to monitor how knowledge sharing is done so far (‘monitor’). Ellen Minkman (TU Delft), Peter Scholten and Jet Bakker (IHS) gave a sneak preview of Closer Cities’ first research results, namely a typology of three types of urban knowledge sharing: one-way transfer, two-way exchange and co-creation. The participants then discussed which boosts and barriers they had experienced while sharing their knowledge with others. Trust among sharing partners, open communication and establishing a clear goal were considered most stimulating, while key barriers include speaking different languages or using different jargon, politics and legislation, and power dynamics. 

Finally, participants discussed the next steps: what is necessary to expand urban knowledge sharing? (‘magnify’). Negar Noori (EUR) and Robbert Nesselaar (Co-founder Closer Cities) introduced the metaphor of knowledge “transplantation” and raised the question as to when a city is comparable enough to share with. The table discussions quickly concluded that the issue is not about finding cities that are comparable, but about having comparable challenges or a comparable context. The experts also discussed the importance of speaking the same language for collaboration. The SDGs are a universal, common language. Speaking the language of the SDGs enhances the ability of different actors to tap into the knowledge of others and co-create solutions around the SDGs


Join the movement!

Continue the conversation on the WEF-nexus at our WEF-nexus page and discover the WEF-nexus projects shared with our platform. Closer Cities will also share the main findings and valuable insights that were co-produced during the conference. Closer Cities aims to collect WEF-nexus best practices from all around the world to fuel constant interaction between urban science and urban practice. If you are working or have worked on a WEF-nexus project, Closer Cities invites you to share your project on the WEF-nexus page.


This WEF-nexus conference was organised by Closer Cities and researchers from Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Institute of Housing and Development Studies and TU Delft in close collaboration with several partners and experts.