Living within the budget of Nature requires reviewing the supply chains that nourish Mediterranean societies and economies. Yet, such a transformation of the rules of the game is still far from commonly accepted, especially when the proposed changes impinge on people’s lifestyle and challenge the current economic models. Increasing demand of water, energy and food, due to population growth and urbanization, and aggravated by unprecedented extreme weather and climate conditions, are likely to undermine future livelihoods in the region, ultimately leading to increased insecurity, migration and possible local conflicts. The Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem (WEFE) Nexus is the system at the intersection of economic, health and ecological interests where the confrontation of diverse practices of market, governance, culture and knowledge takes place. It follows that achieving sustainability, reducing inequality, promoting cooperation and restraining conflicts and migration flows in the Mediterranean region require the concurrent implementation of interconnected targets, many of which are embodied in the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Answering the broad range of questions encompassed by the WEFE Nexus concept is a challenging process at regional and national level. Evidence of benefits for business and communities of a transformative change on how WEFE resources are managed has so far failed to elicit significant changes in behaviour. While people tend to agree on distant targets, acceptance of short-term actions is more difficult. In order to make a more convincing case for change, we need to fill the gap in the debate between experts and non-experts.

A science-driven approach to solving this problem should move beyond biophysical considerations and help design operational targets that reflect the predominant societal values and interests in the Mediterranean region. This requires broadening the toolkit with which experts approach the WEFE Nexus to provide clear demonstrations of the proposed solutions to policy designers. Learning from best practices worldwide can help convince social actors and decision-makers to adapt their thinking and behaviour. It is not the role of scientists to shape policies, since operational targets must be participatory, socio-political choices. But by providing evidence-based assessments on the benefits and trade-offs between the different elements of the Nexus, science can help inform the debate and provide a menu of possible solutions that societies in the Mediterranean can adapt to their own needs. Multi-disciplinary partnerships are therefore essential to tackle such cross-sectoral challenges.