Policymaking in the water–energy–food nexus is characterized by complex ecological, social, and economic interdependencies. Nexus research assumes these interactions to be overseen in the respective resource governance resulting in sectoral perspectives contributing to unsustainable outcomes. In Germany, the political priority given to the formation of an internationally competitive livestock sector by means of intensification, specialization and regional concentration has exerted sustained pressure on water and soil resources. The expansion of bioenergy plants promoted by the renewable energy act has exacerbated the situation. Despite the persistency of the ecological challenges, German policymakers only reacted when the European Commission referred Germany to the European Court of Justice. Current policy efforts to tackle the ecological problems are now provoking disruptions in the agrarian sector in regions with high nitrate concentrations in water resources. By combining the social-ecological systems framework with hypotheses derived from nexus research, we explore the interactions between food, water and energy systems and aim at understanding the unsustainable outcomes. We argue that the non-consideration of the complex interdependencies between the agricultural, the water and the energy system in policymaking and the divergence of policy goals constitute a major cause of unsustainable governance.
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