Linked Indicators for Vital Ecosystem Services (LIVES)

Biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are fundamental for human survival and well-being. Yet, complex natural systems are increasingly strained by climate change and the demands of a growing human population for land, water and other natural resources.

The challenge – Freshwater is the fastest deteriorating biome and food, energy and water security is a critical challenge for a world of 9 billion people

The benefits and products from ecosystems are fundamental for human survival and well-being. And yet, human demands frequently undermine the availability of clean water, secure food production, equitable sharing of resources because governance is weak, information for management is missing and financial incentives and related policies are not encouraging good stewardship of environmental systems.

Conservation solutions are needed that reconcile the short term benefits of economic development and the capacity of natural systems to support human well-being at scale and over the long term to improve decision-making for sustainable development.

To make resource allocations sustainable, interconnected food, energy and water risks must be measured consistently at multiple scales and with strong integration to allow decision makers to understand linkages across economic, environmental and social sectors.

The response – Participatory research to develop linked metrics for food, energy, and water

Using a participatory approach, the Linked Indicators for Vital Ecosystem Services (LIVES) project is conducting basic research to develop risk analysis metrics for food, energy, water and related economic sectors within complex systems.
The LIVES project goal
By 2017, decision-making at the food-water-energy nexus is enhanced through research and capacity building to produce a replicable method for identifying ‘actionable’ indicators that reflect the connections between natural systems, economic systems and human well-being.

  • Objective 1: By May 2015, the blueprint for the global LIVES database is generated by developing a flexible, transferable framework of management-oriented indicators for food-energy-water security in river basins through consultation with thought leaders in the nexus and water management global community.
  • Objective 2: By July 2015, the hypothesized food-energy-water relationships within the socio-environmental system are made explicit through a system dynamics model developed for the WWF Focal Landscape in the Mekong River Basin (the Siphadone-Stung Treng-Kratie (SSK) landscape) and tested for support to decision making a) in choosing key indicators of food energy water trends; and b) for identifying policy options.
  • Objective 3: By February 2016, LIVES Phase I methodologies and results are communicated through innovative outreach activities to the nexus and water management community resulting in extended and new global partnerships that support cross-learning and improved decision-making in critically important areas.

The Engagement – bringing together science and thought leaders to develop a global indicators for the food-energy-water nexus

Phase I of the LIVES project has two main themes of work :

  • Modelling component: We are constructing a series of system dynamics models with national and local government, the scientific research community, and civil society partners. The aim is to give clear evidence and data on the food-energy-water relationships within the socio-environmental system for one site in the Mekong river basin. We will demonstrate how these models can provide decision-making support to identify key indicators and options for action to reduce trade-offs between environment and development in that region.
  • Global thought leaders component: With input from thought leaders on nexus issues, and specific expertise in integrated freshwater management from WWF, IUCN, and Conservation International, we are developing a proposed framework of indicators for food-energy-water security in river basins. Results of model development and testing on the ground in the Mekong river basin will inform the framework development. Following this, we will develop the architecture for a global database of management-level indicators for food, energy, water in river basins.

A communications and dissemination phase for LIVES Phase I is planned from November 2015 to February 2016, while we develop the LIVES Phase II work plan. LIVES Phase II will focus on transferring the approaches and knowledge to new river basins and other contexts of food-energy-water decision making.

The Impact

The global LIVES project is developing methods and applications to inform decision-making, breaking new ground to deliver research on the food-energy-water nexus by:

  • contributing towards developing actionable indicators on food-energy-water security in river basins by exploring the connections between methodologies for ecosystem services and biodiversity valuation and socioeconomic assessments to support economic development planning. This ultimately supports risk analysis and communication by translating losses in natural systems into impacts on economic and social systems;
  • improving capacity on decision-support on food-energy-water security when making choices around land use and economic development in the Mekong River Basin—a WWF Priority River Basin. We are contributing to global and regional dialogue around the food-energy-water nexus and green economy growth translating basic science to clear and understandable actions for the international community;
  • generating impact by integrating research into policy processes for sustainable development planning in Cambodia. Academic-NGO capacity and connection to conservation and development policy analysis will be stronger after this project.

Project Partners

We are working closely with WWF-Cambodia, WWF-Greater Mekong, WWF International, Royal University of Phnom Penh, Conservation International, Australian National University, and KnowlEdge Srl for the modelling components of LIVES. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Stockholm International Water Institute, Inter-American Development Bank are our partners for various components of the global scale of work. Co-financed by the Nomis Foundation and the MAVA Foundation.

Additional project facts

  • LIVES has been developed in synergy with the Navigating the Nexus project which examines risks and trade-offs introduced into the Mekong river system through hydropower and other infrastructure development with the Australian National University and WWF International.
  • The global component of the LIVES project is being delivered with close cooperation with the WWF-US Basin Scorecard project to develop scorecards of indicators for the 23 WWF priority basins around the world over 10 years.
  • The Luc Hoffmann Institute project on growth corridors in Africa provides an opportunity to test the transferability of the basic science of the LIVES project to generate food-energy-water inter-linkages to a new context outside of river basins. This project will be launched in March 2015 and will continue for 2 years.

Project Leadership

Dr Ken Serey Rotha, Deputy Director, Secretariat to the National Council on Sustainable Development, Ministry of Environment, Royal Government of Cambodia; Ms Kimheak Chhay, Senior Policy Officer, WWF-Cambodia; Mr Channa Phan, Senior Scientist (SSK Landscape), WWF-Cambodia; Dr Andrea Bassi, Director, Knowledge Srl; Ms Malyne Neang, MSc. Director, ECOLAND research centre, Royal University of Agriculture, Cambodia; Dr James Dalton, Coordinator Global Water Initiatives – IUCN Global Water Programme; Dr Christian Bréthaut, Education & Knowledge Lead, Geneva Water Hub ( University of Geneva); Dr Sarah Freeman, Conservation Hydrologist, WWF-United States; and Dr Louise Gallagher, Research Lead, Luc Hoffmann Institute.

Participatory modelling workshops in Phnom Penh and Kratie Province, Cambodia January 2015. Photos: Nicolas Axelrod / WWF.

LIVES provides a very practical forum for development of evidence-based policy in Cambodia because it give opportunities to young researchers, policy-makers and even politicians to come together and learn from each other. I am excited to be part of the project!

Dr. Ken Serey Rotha, Deputy Director, Secretariat to the National Council on Sustainable Development (Formally Green Growth), Ministry of Environment, Royal Government of Cambodia


WWF Living Planet Report 2014.

Main image: © Elizabeth Kemp / WWF

Chris JohnsonLinked Indicators for Vital Ecosystem Services