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ISSUE III - Agriculture and the Nexus (December 2017)

ISSUE III - Agriculture and the Nexus (December 2017)

What are the tradeoffs in agriculture?

Why is the MAGIC project specialized on the water-energy-food nexus? Because the nexus matters crucially for many EU policies! In this issue, we discuss some of the nexus issues that concern agriculture and the challenge of feeding an increasing population.

The nexus between agriculture and biodiversity is explored by zooming into the ‘land sharing vs land sparing’ debate. On the one hand, agriculture depends on biodiversity, for services such as pollination, soil generation, etc. On the other hand, agricultural expansion competes with biodiversity and land set aside for conservation.

The challenge of agricultural expansion matters not only for biodiversity, but also raises the question of internal boundaries: are there enough farmers to feed an increasing population? There is a link between the small amount of labour Europeans put into agriculture, and the consequences it has on the use of machines, fossil fuels, as well as imports. The EU imports almost four times as much food as China does, even though it has double the amount of arable land per capita. Diets, living standards, and people’s preferences are part of these internal boundaries.

The explicit inclusion of the nexus within policy-making allows for a better-informed analysis of progress towards EU sustainability goals. It does not mean, however, that the achievement of these goals becomes easier! In our last article, we take you through the first results of MAGIC’s analysis of policy narratives. The Common Agricultural Policy has the potential to be a force for change in strategies on water, biodiversity, climate change and wider rural economic development – but it is also dominated by big agro-businesses.

These articles are aimed at initiating a discussion on the importance of the nexus for agricultural policy-making. We welcome any comment and contribution to the discussion. You can either use our discussion forum (check out our post on CAP narratives!) or write to us.

The WEFE Nexus and the Common Agricultural Policy

The MAGIC Nexus project team has identified policy narratives that illustrate complexities and tradeoffs regarding the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the context of the water, energy, food and environment (WEFE) nexus.

Planetary boundaries and the global food system: what about the farmers?

Planetary boundaries are usually framed in terms of natural constraints on the ecosystem, but constraints linked to society’s organization, especially our workforce, shouldn’t be ignored.

The land sharing vs. land sparing debate: Options to ensure food security while preserving biodiversity

Global agricultural production is increasing to meet our food needs as the world's population grows - but how can this expansion be reconciled with environmental concerns such as biodiversity loss and cultural practices?

VIDEO: Is agriculture just about food production?

Watch Mario Giampietro talk about the complexities of agriculture and how farming is more than just monoculture. This excerpt was taken from the 2017 UAB MOOC on socio-ecological systems:

VIDEO: How should we conceptualize 'food'?

Should we view the concept of food more in terms of its historical and geographical context versus its role as a commodity? Mario Giampietro of the UAB explains why the definition of 'food' is so important when analyzing agricultural systems. This except was taken from the 2017 UAB MOOC on socio ecological systems.


ISSUE II - Efficiency Paradox (September 2017)

ISSUE II - Efficiency Paradox (September 2017)

Why focus on efficiency?

Efficiency has become a  popular measure in many of the policy areas of the European Union, including energy policy, the circular economy and climate policy. However, despite its ubiquitous use, the term efficiency is surrounded by considerable confusion. Indeed, in some cases improvements in efficiency may lead to increased consumption. This edition of The Nexus Times enters in the current debate on efficiency targets with a critical analysis of the term efficiency and its related paradoxes.

In this edition, you will find two articles that discuss the efficiency paradox from different points of view, highlighting some of the challenges that efficiency targets may pose for the governance of the water-energy-food nexus. We also take you through the historical origins and development of the concept of efficiency, and talk about how this concept is used in two of the policy areas that MAGIC is analyzing: energy policy and the circular economy.

These articles are intended to generate a discussion on the use of the term efficiency in setting policy goals. We welcome any comments and contributions to the discussion, including article contributions. To get in touch, please use our discussion forum or write to us

We hope you enjoy this latest edition of The Nexus Times!

Kind regards, 

The MAGIC Nexus team. 


Table of Contents

  • VIDEO: The paradox of energy efficiency
  • The paradox of efficiency: Can uncertainty be governed?
  • Paradox or Paradigm? A deeper discussion about societal goals
  • Is renewable energy efficient?
  • From religous concept to industrial tool
  • The circular economy: A new efficiency paradox?

VIDEO: The paradox of energy efficiency

Increasing energy efficiency helps to use resources more economically. But what if greater efficiency in a complex system actually uses up more energy resources overall? This video explains this paradox of energy efficiency, also known as the Jevons Paradox.

The paradox of efficiency: Can uncertainty be governed?

In a world of limited resources and increasing human impact on the environment, using resources more efficiently seems sensible. Many policies see efficiency as an important instrument to achieve their goals. In the case of energy policy, the EU has published in 2012 a directive on energy efficiency and in June EU energy ministers agreed to support a 30% energy efficiency target for 2030 as part of proposed legislation to improve the EU's electricity market. In water management, efficiency is seen as a means to deal with water scarcity in arid regions.

Paradox or Paradigm? A deeper discussion about societal goals

The Jevons Paradox and rebound effect can be seen as one of the same thing as both observe higher consumption levels due to increased efficiency. But the real public policy question we should be asking is: do we want to live in a consumption-driven society?

Is renewable energy efficient?

Renewable energy and efficiency are both essential to meet the EU’s sustainability goals, but synergies and trade-offs between the two measures are under-studied.

From religous concept to industrial tool

Far from having a straightforward definition, the term 'efficiency' has taken on many different meanings throughout history, showing that its meaning is highly contextual, writes Tessa Dunlop.

In its most general sense, the term ‘efficiency’ has become a central ideal in the world’s advanced industrial cultures. Efficiency often signifies something good, as in a job well and economically done, and is associated with ideals of individual discipline, superior management, and increased profits.

The circular economy: A new efficiency paradox?

Proponents of the circular economy call for actions to be 'eco-effective': but is this another efficiency paradox?

ISSUE I - Circular Economy (June 2017)

ISSUE I - Circular Economy (June 2017)

Table of Contents

  • What does the concept of the Circular Economy mean?
  • Can the Circular Economy boost job creation?
  • Acknowledging risk migration in recycling
  • What type of complexities are involved in circularity?
  • Infographic: Measuring circularity
  • VIDEO: What will it take to 'Close the Loop?'

What does the concept of the Circular Economy mean?

The Circular Economy is attracting increasing attention from researchers, funding agencies, policy makers and industry. The European Union invested EUR 184 million in 2016 alone on green projects, almost half of which were on the Circular Economy. What is so special about the Circular Economy?

Can the Circular Economy boost job creation?

Garbage collection

The European Union’s Circular Economy plan needs to push circularity beyond waste management in order to realize its job creation potential.

Acknowledging risk migration in recycling

How can science and policy deal with the uncertainty of the potential risks the recycling poses to human health and the environment?

What type of complexities are involved in circularity?

Circularity means different things in physics, biology and economics. But what do different narratives imply for European policy?

Infographic: Measuring circularity

This infographic shows the circularity of the economy from a systems perspective, showing which types of materials are being recycled and reused and in which sectors.

VIDEO: What will it take to 'Close the Loop?'

Find out what narratives and indicators can be used to understand the Circular Economy in this video.