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EU-funded Serious Game project guides solutions to natural resources sustainability challenges

An EU-funded project is working on improving the understanding of the complex interplay between water, land, energy, food and climate and developing a serious game to support policymakers in developing more sustainable resource-management strategies.

The EU-funded SIM4NEXUS project is developing a serious game platform to identify the effects and side effects of national, regional and international policy decisions on the use of natural resources. The results will be made accessible to policymakers, public administrators and other stakeholders, including researchers, businesses and citizens, through the SIM4NEXUS serious game.

The water-energy-food-climate ‘nexus’ is dominated by complex interactions and feedback loops – putting pressure on one part can affect another with unforeseen and/or unintended consequences.

As human population and demand for food, water, materials and energy increase, careful and sustainable management of available natural resources is becoming more and more critical.

Project coordinator Floor Brouwer of Wageningen Economic Research in the Netherlands commented:

‘Our aim is to generate new insights and significantly improve understanding, especially among public officials, of how policies and activities affecting one aspect of the ‘nexus’, such as land use, can have unexpected consequences on other systems and resources, for instance water, agriculture or energy.’

Serious game helps look for answers

This serious game is a visualisation tool that gives ‘players’ an immersive experience and helps them to better understand the impacts and side effects of policies on the different nexus components and at various geographical levels. The advanced thematic models on which the serious game is built can provide answers to a wide variety of important questions about resource management and sustainability.

For example:

  • If more land is dedicated to growing crops for biomass energy, how does that impact food production, water use and the energy sector?
  • Might it lead to changes in regional hydrology, triggering extreme local weather such as heatwaves, droughts and floods?
  • And what might be the impact downstream, in another region or country?

By integrating artificial intelligence, the game is able to learn from the players and the decisions they make, expanding its ability to identify effects and improving its predictive capabilities with each interaction.

Close collaboration

To develop the system, the SIM4NEXUS team is working closely with relevant stakeholders, especially the communities and industries affected by resource management strategies – from farmers to energy producers.

This collaboration forms the basis of national and regional case studies in regions and countries as diverse as Sardinia, Latvia and Azerbaijan, as well as broader analyses of trade-offs, resource pressures and policy effects across Europe and around the world. The case studies serve as test beds for the serious game.

“Many studies have been conducted into the resources and systems that make up the ‘nexus’, but it is critical to view all of the parts in combination and understand how they interact in order to ensure coherence in policymaking,” Brouwer continued.

“This will enable decision makers to identify policy side effects, feedback loops and potential risks, as well as estimate the beneficial or negative consequences of resource management strategies over the short, medium and long-term.”

The researchers are working with other EU-funded projects, such as MAGIC, exploring methods to boost resource sustainability. They are also collaborating with projects outside Europe such as ISWEL, which is focusing on identifying integrated solutions for water, energy, food and ecosystem security at global and regional scales.

The  € 7 MILLION-plus EU-funded  SIM4NEXUS project started in June 2016 and is due to conclude in May 2020.

Click here to visit the project website

Click here to visit the SIM4NEXUS serious game



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