The rise and implications of the water-energy-food nexus in Southeast Asia through an environmental justice lens

Carl Middleton
MA in International Development Studies Program, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand; carl.chulalongkorn@gmail.com

Jeremy Allouche
Institute of Development Studies, STEPS Centre, Brighton, UK; j.allouche@ids.ac.uk

Dipak Gyawali
Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, Kathmandu, Nepal; dipakgyawali@ntc.net.np

Sarah Allen
Department of Geography, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; saallen@yorku.ca

ABSTRACT: This article maps the rise of the water-energy-food 'nexus' as a research, policy and project agenda in mainland Southeast Asia. We argue that introducing the concept of environmental justice into the nexus, especially where narratives, trade-offs and outcomes are contested, could make better use of how the nexus is framed, understood and acted upon. With funding from high-income country donors, it is found to have diffused from a global policy arena into a regional one that includes international and regional organisations, academic networks, and civil society, and national politicians and government officials. The nexus is yet to be extensively grounded, however, into national policies and practices, and broad-based local demand for nexus-framed policies is currently limited. The article contends that if the nexus is to support stated aspirations for sustainable development and poverty reduction, then it should engage more directly in identifying winners and losers in natural resource decision-making, the politics involved, and ultimately with the issue of justice. In order to do so, it links the nexus to the concept of environmental justice via boundary concepts, namely: sustainable development; the green economy; scarcity and addressing of trade-offs; and governance at, and across, the local, national and transnational scale.

KEYWORDS: Nexus, environmental justice, sustainable development, water-energy-food, Southeast Asia