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Policy Brief // Reconciling resource uses in transboundary basins: assessment of the Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystems Nexus

This paper delivers an introduction towards the different stages and benefits given by an assessment of the water-food-energy-ecosystems nexus, with a specific focus on resource use in transboundary basins. It uses three specific pilot basins for the development of the assessment.


This policy brief was initiated by the Advisory Assistance Programme (AAP) of the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt) and implemented by UNECE in the frame of the project "Assessment of the water-food-energy-ecosystem nexus: dialogue in Sava Basin, Western Balkan". It first lays out the reasons why a transboundary Nexus approach is needed, followed by a methodology chapter dedicated to the assessment of Nexus projects. It then delivers solutions to adress transboundary Nexus challenges, while showing up potential benefits of a transboundary Nexus approach.

A large share of natural resources falls within transboundary basins. About 40% of the world’s population lives in transboundary river and lake basins that account for an estimated 60% of freshwater flow. The management of transboundary basins involves the management of water, energy and land resources, such as agricultural land and forests. But management also involves the economic activities located in the basin and/or dependent on those resources – such as energy production, mining, industrial production, transport or tourism – as well as the social and environmental impact of the management of natural resources. Managing water, energy, and land resources in a transboundary context poses specific challenges. Coordination between the water, energy, food and environment sectors is challenging even at the national level. But the complexity increases substantially in transboundary river basins where the impact spreads from one country to another and trade-offs and externalities may cause friction between the riparian countries.

A methodology to assess nexus linkages and solutions adapted to transboundary contexts has been developed in the framework of the Water Convention. A basin-level nexus assessment involves six steps that combine desk studies and participatory workshops. Step 1 focuses on the identification of basin conditions and the socioeconomic context. Step 2 focuses on the identification of key sectors and stakeholders to be included in the assessment. Step 3 focuses on the analysis of key sectors, including through indicators. Step 4 focuses on the identification of intersectoral issues. Step 5 consists of a nexus dialogue about, and the priority of, inter-linkage scenarios to be considered, and a preliminary understanding of the evolution of the inter-linkages under the different scenarios. Step 6 focuses on identifying synergies across sectors and countries. As part of the assessment, a second workshop should be organized to discuss the findings and the possible implementation of the identified solutions. The assessment covers both governance and technical issues through two parallel and complementary efforts that inform each other.

Key messages

  • A transboundary nexus assessment can facilitate better management of basin resources but it is not a panacea. The methodology developed under the Water Convention has proved suitable to very different basins with very different conditions and provides a good basis for the identification of cooperation opportunities. Carrying out a nexus assessment offers an opportunity to take a fresh look at, or re-energize, the process of transboundary cooperation. A nexus assessment can be seen as a scoping exercise and the first step on a longer process to develop and broaden cooperation in resource management.
  • A transboundary nexus assessment needs to be planned carefully. To gain the most from such an exercise it is important to tailor its scope and focus to the level of existing cooperation, and to consider how the assessment results can be used by existing or future policy and cooperation processes.
  • Implementing nexus solutions will be challenging as sectoral interests may be very strong, favoured by the status quo, and conventional sectoral management very established. The implementation of a nexus approach requires good information to improve national level intersectoral coordination and the development of a shared knowledge base for transboundary cooperation.
  • Stronger multi-sector transboundary planning and coordination is required to respond to challenges and to seize opportunities, but effective intersectoral coordination, even at the national level, is difficult to achieve, irrespective of the level of economic development.
  • Enhanced transboundary cooperation on the management of the basin resources will bring significant benefits. These benefits can be from economic activities, in the form of, for example, a reduction in infrastructure development costs or the costs of water-related hazards, or the development of regional markets for goods, services and labour.


July 2017


Policy Brief: Reconciling resource uses in transboundary basins: assessment of the water-food-energy-ecosystems nexus

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