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The University of Sussex is leading a new network of academics and experts researching issues around food, energy, water and the environment.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) this week launched The Nexus Network to better co-ordinate UK research efforts in tackling these “urgent global challenges”.

With funding of £1.8 million for an initial three years, the network will be led by Professor James Wilsdon, Professor of Science and Democracy in SPRU – Science and Technology Policy Research, in partnership with the University of East Anglia and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

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Professor James Wilsdon

Professor Wilsdon said: “I want to encourage anyone with a commitment to tackling the linked challenges of food, energy, water and the environment to join The Nexus Network.

“The language of the nexus highlights the need for interconnected thinking between different resource flows, between the natural and social sciences, and between the research community and decision makers.

“Whether you are a researcher, or work in government, business or an NGO, we’d encourage you to get involved and help to shape this exciting agenda.”

Professor Paul Boyle, ESRC Chief Executive, added: “The Nexus Network provides a real opportunity for social science thinking to make a huge contribution towards tackling some of the urgent global challenges that we face.

“Understanding the interconnections between food, energy and water and the implications for the environment is an essential area for further research.

“The network will build a new research community bringing together interdisciplinary researchers with business and other users, to develop richer thinking and possible solutions.”

The Nexus Network will foster debate, innovative research and practical collaborations and is open to researchers from all disciplines, and to decision makers in government, business and civil society.

It has also committed £500,000 to provide grants for pilot projects, blue-sky ideas, working papers and placements. An initial call for proposals has been issued, for a series of up to 10 ‘think pieces’ or working papers that can help to scope and define nexus approaches and stimulate debate.

To help launch The Nexus Network, the Guardian is running a series of articles on their website over the course of this week. The first of these, by Professor Wilsdon, was published on Monday (9 June).

Researchers working on any of these topics, can sign up to the network or follow it on Twitter (@uk_nexus).

Professor Ian Bateman from the University of East Anglia said:

“The natural environment underpins life on earth and provides vital inputs to the production of the most essential goods necessary for sustainable societies. However, the production of these goods and services is inextricably linked through a nexus of interdependencies. Deciding to increase food production or the extraction of natural gas can have implications for the availability of high quality fresh water; building new houses provides much needed homes, but can reduce the availability of recreational lands and impact upon biodiversity.”

Dr Jake Reynolds from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership said:

“While business is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of natural capital, there is an urgent call to explore not only natural capital elements themselves but also the connections between them. In an era of growing resource pressures, The Nexus Network will play a crucial role in identifying system-level responses to protecting livelihoods and natural resources. Our business networks will bring a distinctive, pragmatic perspective to nexus challenges.”

The Nexus Network is the first in a linked series of ESRC investments, the second being a ‘sustainable prosperity’ steer in this year’s ESRC Centres and Large Grants Call. It is ESRC’s vision that as The Nexus Network grows, it will work with this community to scope future calls, ensuring that the research it commissions builds on, and is directly informed by, the interdisciplinary community it is supporting through the network.

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