Skip to main content

Exploring cross-resource impacts of urban sustainability measures

an urban climate-land-energy-water nexus analysis

Time: Fri 2022-04-29 09.00

Location: Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, Stockholm

Video link:

Language: English

Subject area: Energy Technology

Doctoral student: Rebecka Ericsdotter Engström , Energisystem, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Opponent: Reader Nazmiye Ozkan, Centre for Energy Systems and Strategy, School of Energy, Environment and Agrifood, Cranfield University

Supervisor: Professor Viktoria Martin, Kraft- och värmeteknologi, Tillämpad termodynamik och kylteknik; Professor Georgia Destouni, Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University; Professor Vladimir Cvetkovic, Resurser, energi och infrastruktur; Prof Mark I. Howells, Energiteknik


In an increasingly urban world, cities' global resource uses grow. Two fundamental resources for making cities liveable are water and energy. These resources are also closely interlinked – systems that convert and deliver energy to cities require water, and urban water systems use energy. In addition, these two resource systems affect and are affected by land use and climate change. This ‘nexus’ between climate, land use, energy and water (CLEW) systems has been extensively studied in the past decade, mainly with a focus on national and transboundary CLEW systems. This doctoral thesis develops the CLEW nexus research from an urban perspective.

Two quantitative analyses examine how different types of sustainability measures in cities affect intended and unintended CLEW systems. First, the CLEW impacts of a set of sustainability measures in New York City are assessed - from water conservation to emission reductions. Results show that every measure affects (to varying degrees) all studied sustainability dimensions - water, energy and climate - and that the impacts can be quantified through a reference-resource-to-service-system (RRSS).

The second quantitative study focuses on how CLEW impacts from a city's sustainability efforts spread beyond local and international borders. It investigates how global water and land use are affected in alternative scenarios to achieve climate neutrality in 2030 in the town of Oskarshamn, Sweden, using an energy systems simulation model. The study finds that both the magnitude and the geographical distribution of land and water requirements vary between scenarios. A strategy to achieve climate neutrality that invests in electrification leads to increased national water use, while a strategy that relies on biofuels has a greater impact on water and land use internationally. When results are translated to interactions between the UN's sustainable development goals (SDGs), they reveal that SDG synergies and trade-offs are 'strategy-dependent': different options for achieving SDGs on energy, sustainable cities and climate action have varying consequences for the advancement of SDGs on sustainable water, food production and biodiversity.

To shed light on how data challenges affect quantitative urban nexus studies, uncertainty assessments of selected thesis’ results are conducted and complemented with a thematic analysis of a set of recently published urban nexus papers. Together, they indicate that analytical choices, uncertainties in results and - as a consequence - research foci are influenced by data limitations in both this thesis and in other urban nexus studies.

Lastly, the finding from the Oskarshamn analysis – that SDG interactions are strategy-dependent – is deliberated with experts within sustainability sciences and SDG interaction research. From this, a research agenda is proposed with measures to make SDG 'spillovers' visible in local level decision-making.

Taken together, the thesis contributes to filling several knowledge gaps on how urban sustainability measures within the CLEW systems interact within and beyond city limits, and proposes analytical approaches to quantify these interactions. It further points out how current data challenges constrain quantitative urban nexus analyses and highlights research needs to improve data management as well as other key efforts to enable consideration of nexus interactions, including SDG 'spillovers', in cities' sustainability work.