skip to content

Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership


The nebulous nexus – collaboration is key to ensure COP21 is a success

Dr Gemma Cranston, Senior Programme Manager,
Natural Capital Leaders Platform

27 August 2015

The threats climate change poses to the private sector are significant and the need for international agreements on climate change to keep global warming below 2oC is ever more pressing. The challenge that we all face now is in finding consensus and a common vision that is applicable not only to all countries but to all corporate sectors too. So, as we reach #100daysToParis how can the ambitions of COP21 be met and what is the role of collaboration in achieving this?

Let’s start with the facts: current upward trends for consumption, population and economic growth are placing enormous pressures on natural resources, which is being exacerbated by climate change. Indeed, 13 August 2015 saw Earth Overshoot Day, the day on which humanity’s consumption of the world’s natural resources exceeded the production capacity for this year. Sadly this day comes earlier each year: an indication that our current consumption patterns and business models are not sustainable.  

The situation that we find ourselves in today creates long-term risks to business, consumers and wider society which fundamentally depend on the Earth's natural resource base. As the pressures start to mount, we need to find a way to navigate towards a step change in practical approaches and policy that will address these growing challenges. One way is to consider the interplay and trade-offs between the nexus of food, water and energy security.  

Nexus challenges are widely recognised by business leaders, politicians and academics alike: How do we meet our requirements for energy without impacting climate change? How can we ensure food provision for a growing population with less water? How do we make headway on these complex challenges with the often conflicting roles of business, government and society? The nexus concept has gained prominence through the lead-up to the Rio+20 Summit in 2012 and will continue to attract the attention of policymakers, business and civil society on an international scale. Indeed the World Economic Forum has called it ‘the gossamer that links together the web of food, energy, climate, economic growth and human security challenges’.

It is through the bringing together of this nebulous nexus, both from a food, water and energy perspective and from a business, government and civil society viewpoint that we can strategically address the most critical global challenges of today. 

Nexus2020, a project lead by the Natural Capital Leaders Platform at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, has the ambition to identify those key challenges in the form of the top questions that need to be answered around the food, water, energy nexus. With over 700 questions submitted, it now falls to a team of 20 leading businesses and 20 academics to determine which are the most important. By no means an easy feat, but one that is necessary for us to work as a collective and shape corporate decision-making and policy in the wider context of changing climate and competing interests.  

These top questions will be revealed ahead of COP21 at the Nexus Network Annual Conference on 19 November. I sincerely hope that these questions lead to further collaboration between business, academia and policymakers in the quest to find the collective answers that will lead us into the new frontier of sustainable business without breaching the 2oC target.  

About the author

Dr Gemma Cranston

Gemma is Acting Director, Natural Resource Security Portfolio, bringing together influential companies with a global reach to address their dependencies and impacts on natural capital and enable companies to translate this into a tangible business context. With a Ph.D in Ecological Footprints, Gemma previously worked as the Lead Scientist at Global Footprint Network in Geneva.  



lmer, Head of Media

| T: +44 7432 533 080


Director of Communications  

| T: +44 (0)1223 768451