event 27 jun. 2012

NEXUS Interview // The Nexus at Rio+20: way forward?

An interview with Albert Butare, Co-Chair of the Bonn2011 Nexus Conference and NEXUS Ambassador

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Shutterstock/Marc Turcan

Mr Butare is the former minister responsible for Energy and Water in the Republic of Rwanda and the Co-Chair of the Bonn2011 Nexus Conference, alongside Dr Uschi Eid, current Vice Chair of the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation and former German Deputy Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development. In the preparatory period of the Bonn Conference, Mr Butare was strongly involved in defining the content and structure of the Conference and has become a "Nexus ambassador" in the process. In his position as Co-chair of the Bonn2011 Nexus Conference and Nexus ambassador Mr Butare attended the Rio+20 Conference. water-energy-food.org conducted this interview with him briefly after Rio+20.

NEXUS Platform: Mr Butare, the Rio+20 Conference has just concluded. What are your main impressions regarding sustainable development and the conclusion of Rio+20?

Albert Butare: The fact that the Conference was massively attended is in itself an initial indication of the commitment, dedication and concerns which people have regarding all the ingredients and issues around sustainable development. It was particularly remarkable to see such a high level of private sector participation and engagement in this conference, which has not been necessarily the norm in such earlier events. So, this was all very good. The sessions that I was able to attend were all full of good ideas and what people thought and suggested would make our world better. I have not seen the final document with final resolutions - however, the question that I found in almost all the discussions — and that was not concretely answered and remained a concern for many people — was: "How do we make it work? What concrete actions do we proceed with right after Rio+20 in order to make a difference?" In absence of an answer to this, the question therefore remains: Won't the short- and medium term future simply remain the same? Won't the necessary changes continue to depend on each nation's own efforts only and thus their own respective level of commitment and implementation - just as has been the case before Rio - and therefore the situation remains the same? So what is it that the Rio+20 Conference has added on to old initiatives and practices?

You were involved in various sessions on the water, energy and food security Nexus at Rio+20. Were there any new insights you gained and you can share with us? What were the main conclusions and take away messages from these Nexus-specific sessions?

Incidentally, the discussion on the water, energy, and food security nexus - either in this very wording or using other phrasing with similar meaning - happened to surface in all the sessions I was able to attend. There was clearly no doubt that a nexus approach towards exploitation and management of these resources is a well understood and conceived concept at global level. In other words, it did not require much effort for us as Nexus Ambassadors and countries like Germany supporting a more systemic Nexus approach in Rio to make much effort to propel the nexus idea and perspective. The main efforts to follow hereafter, as far as I am concerned, is to continue to craft new, better and probably more innovative ways to assist in the nexus implementation enforcement across the world, and especially in the developing world where the negative effects of a non-systemic approach are already felt and increasingly apparent. Germany has been the pioneer of the initiative, but with the more global platform established at Rio+20, I hope and trust that more partners advocating and propelling the effort will emerge.

One of the main topics at the Rio+20 Conference were the Sustainable Development Goals SDG's. The World Bank for example recently suggested a set of SDG's including water, energy and food security. Did you follow this process? Do water, energy and food appear specifically in the Rio+20 declarations?

As I said, Water, Energy and Food were central in almost all the discussions, even in the civil society dialogue on water that was organized by the Government of Brazil and attracted hundreds of people, who discussed and debated for weeks before Rio+20. The water, energy and food nexus was finally voted for into their global ranking, which stated: "Assert the importance of integrated water, energy and land use planning and management at all scales" as one of the only three best ranked recommendations that would reach the summit.

I have not seen the final resolutions and declarations document but as far as I know it was decided that the Sustainable Development Goals would be included. For us, this means that we need to keep engaging over the next months to ensure that the momentum around the water, energy and food security Nexus will be maintained and that it remains on the agenda due to its relevance for the SDG's.

Regarding the World Bank aspect, I do know that the three resources have been major considerations and undertakings of the Bank especially in the developing world and it has been their norm to look at the interdependencies of the three and address the relevant issues during implementation of World Bank funded projects. Vivien Foster of the World Bank also addressed and explained this in her statement during the nexus session in Rio+20.

Let us talk about Sub-Saharan Africa and your work on "Bringing the Nexus to Africa" as a session at the recent Africa Water Week 4 in Cairo was called. What specific Nexus opportunities and challenges do you see in Sub-Saharan Africa? What specific roles do you see for research, political-decision-makers and the private sector as well as development banks in taking, implementing and "living" a more systemic Nexus approach?

During the Bonn2011 Nexus conference and process, there were opportunities for participation of many different personalities from Sub-Saharan Africa and from diverse stakeholder groups for that matter. These included high level political cadres, academia, research, civil society, youth and representatives of indigenous communities. At a follow up Conference in Ethiopia organized by the African Union Commission and the UN Economic Commission for Africa the nexus concept was discussed as well. During the Africa Water Week in Cairo, we organized a side event on the nexus with a panel of prominent officials from three regional initiatives from West, East and Northern Africa. The importance and relevance of the nexus approach was recognised by all of them, it seems to be an obvious aspect across various sectors. With continued discussions I can also see countries starting to implement it. However, there are currently three main constraints:

  • Lack of sufficient skills needed for better planning of this integrated approach when addressing one of the three sectors or a sectoral initiative - be it water, energy or food production that may involve irrigation, soil management and others.
  • Lack of necessary resources for mitigating potential effects resulting from the implementation of one of the initiatives, for example water management or possible flood controls that might result from the construction of a hydro-power unit, or forestry sustenance that always remain in conflict with Biomass energy requirements.
  • Lack of necessary investments required to implement projects that would consider and positively respond to the nexus philosophy. For example, investment in solar and wind energy should, whenever possible, not be in any conflict whatsoever with water supply or food production. This is currently not the case as countries are still constrained with investment capacities in these energy sources.

All these and other related aspects are challenges that need to be concurrently addressed in the course of implementing the nexus approach. This means that the nexus approach implementation is a process itself that may be long, essentially depending on the level of efforts we invest into it.

Now that Rio+20 is over what is the way forward? Is there a vision for the Nexus? Where do you see the Nexus discussions and uptake of more systemic approaches across various sectors by summer 2013? Where do you see it in five years?

Asking ourselves the same question — by "ourselves" I mean the Germany nexus pioneers, and some of the nexus ambassadors that attended Rio+20 — we firmly agreed that the Nexus concept and an integrated approach to water, energy and food security do not seem to be a debate any more. We also tentatively agreed that for the nexus concept to sink deeper in the minds of people, specifically for ensuring quicker implementation, there is need to continue to accompany and steer the process for some time to maintain and give it even more momentum. This is being thought about and shall also be discussed with other relevant stakeholders in order to agree on the appropriate way forward.

Thank you for the interview!

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