Current demand and resource use trajectories are threatening to undermine the inclusiveness and sustainability of development. The priority must be to address current water, energy, and food insecurity in particular, of the world’s poorest, to provide a healthy diet, safe water, and access to modern energy for all, going beyond the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, this goal should not only be pursued at the household level, but also at the industrial development level to enable economic development for all countries. Meeting these additional demands in closing these gaps poses even stronger resource challenges.
It is likely that the Rio+20 Conference will launch a process to identify Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which would meet both these social and environmental challenges: staying within the environmental “ceiling”, or planetary boundaries, and the socio-economic “floor”, which, combined, define a safe and more equal operating space for humanity. When developing these SDGs, it will be important to recognize the interactions and feedback among planetary boundaries and among SDGs, and also between planetary boundaries and SDGs.
This nexus angle is particularly important given the strong links between sectors, i.e., agriculture, water, energy, environment, which are likely to get even stronger so that externalities across resources become co-constraints of sustainable development. In fact, the real innovation of SDGs may be in exactly that—their conjunctive development—given that most of the individual goals were already formulated in the past in one way or another. The nexus approach also needs to inform the emerging national green economy roadmaps, so that the resulting efficiency gains can help keep the cumulative effect of all national development agendas within the planet’s safe operating space.