About the project

The BRIDGE project aims to develop a framework of analysis and policy engagement to improve the resilience of the Brazilian Food-Water-Energy (FWE) nexus, to global environmental and economic change, in close cooperation with the Brazilian academic community. It combines established UK expertise and specifically developed, state-of-the-art analytical capacity in socio-economic and environmental modelling to build a robust environmental policy assessment methodology for the Brazilian FWE nexus in the context of global change. The modelling capacity, skills and knowledge will be transferred to relevant actors in Brazil to enable local academics to continue informing and engaging policymakers through a continued sustainability transition during and beyond the end of this project.

The project is funded by the Newton Fund, a collaboration between UK and Brazil Research Councils, the ESRC and FAPESC.


Aims and objectives

  •  To develop a framework of analysis and policy engagement to effectively inform and support the policy cycle in Brazil to reach objectives of sustainable development in a context of global environmental and economic change.
  • To engage with the policy process and cycle to determine the role of appropriate policy instruments and how they can be best implemented, to improve resilience of the food-water- energy nexus in Brazil to global environmental and economic change.
  • To transfer analysis skills, technology and knowledge between the UK and Brazilian academic and policy communities to effectively inform and guide a continued sustainability transition.
  • To jointly develop a new methodology to assess the cross-sectoral complexity and uncertainty involved in the food-water-energy nexus across scales, for Brazil in a context of global environmental and economic change.
  • To jointly develop robust quantitative evidence and novel research tools and methods embedded in highly detailed new generation computational models, which will be made available to researchers in academia, industry, civil society and government, in both the UK and Brazil.
  • To carry out successful demonstration of sustainability projects on the ground in Santa Catarina with key sectoral and regional policy institutions and networks whose activities impact on and have influence over the nexus challenges.

Research questions being addressed and methods for analysis

The complexity in the Food-Water-Energy Nexus in Brazil

Energy, water and food production and consumption in Brazil face important challenges. River flows and water reservoirs, including in dams, have record low levels and face scarcity, requiring curtailing a predominantly hydro-oriented electricity system (e.g. Watts, 2015). The productivity of the land in many regions is likely to change excessively with climate change due to significant expected changes in rainfall (Phillips et al., 2009), affecting the viability of agricultural practices in the affected areas. The Brazilian economy is highly focused towards exporting agricultural products and food, with one of the highest shares of agricultural exports in the world (Figure 1), which makes it vulnerable to global economic changes. The profitability of some types of agricultural production, for instance meat and soya, is likely to evolve with the accelerated or fluctuating growth of consumption in several nations around the globe, which may incentivise excessive indirect land-use changes (Arima et al., 2006) and environmental degradation (e.g. Tollefson, 2015). Increasing land productivity is possible (Strassburg et al., 2014), but will not necessarily happen without policy intervention. These critical issues are tied to one another through the complex Food-Water-Energy (FWE) nexus. Understanding the nexus is key to sensible planning for improving the resilience of the Brazilian economy and environment to internal and global environmental and socioeconomic change.

The FWE nexus is a complex system involving many interactions between social and natural components, of which the emergent properties are not well understood. Effectively, it is not understood, for instance, whether food price fluctuations are related or not with events taking place in the energy sector (e.g. the oil price or increasing biofuel demand). Also, the extent to which the Brazilian economy and environment could be affected by food consumption patterns in other emerging nations has not been quantified. Furthermore, Brazil is known to be susceptible to significant environmental change in scenarios of climate change (e.g. RCP8.5 in IPCC, 2013), especially when combined with deforestation (Davidson et al., 2012) which will inevitably affect its ability to produce agricultural commodities, labour employment in the agricultural sector, regional economic development and ultimately national growth and efforts towards poverty reduction.


Figure 1: Current share of total exports made of agricultural products and food globally (33% for Brazil).

A sustainability transition in the FWE nexus involves improving resilience of all of its components, which include land-use, trade, energy production and water management. Understanding the science of these connections is not enough, however, because changes of policy, legal frameworks and regulatory compliance act to influence and re-orient the system in subtle interrelated ways. Such changes, however, need to be extremely well informed by science in order not to lead to unintended consequences (e.g. generating energy poverty with emissions reduction policy, barring access to water with pricing policies, destruction of ecosystems due to land policy for creating jobs, etc). Thus, qualified multi- and trans-disciplinary analytical capacity can become crucial for informing effective policy-making and environmental law.

Figure 2: Information flow diagram across scales, from global to local.

In this project, we wish to address the following questions:

  1. How will global environmental change affect the Brazilian Food-Water-Energy nexus? What are the potential impacts of ensuing water scarcity and land use change on the Brazilian food-water- energy nexus?
  2. In which directions will the current trends of global economic change likely lead the Brazilian food- water-energy nexus in 2050 and beyond? What are the socioeconomic implications for Brazil, and how are they connected to the food-water-energy nexus at different scales?
  3. Which portfolios of policies, at local, regional and state level, can most effectively incentivise the sustainable development of Brazil, and improve its resilience to the challenges of the food-water- energy nexus?
  4. What projects, at the community level, can contribute to improving the resilience of the Energy-Water-Food nexus in Brazil? In order to answer these questions, we propose the methodology, lying at and beyond state-of-the- art research in the field, detailed in the following sections.