UNECE recently published a report, which summarizes lessons-learned, challenges and opportunities in applying the Transboundary Basin Nexus Assessment (TBNA) Methodology, designed and further developed by the Task Force on the Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystems Nexus as part of the Water Convention. From 2013 – 2018 the methodology was piloted in a representative set of transboundary basins, namely Alazani/Ganykh River Basin, Sava River Basin and Syr Darya River Basin, Isonzo/Soča River Basin Drina River Basin and the North-West-Sahara Aquifer System.
Typically, Water-Energy-Food Nexus assessments aim at analyzing trade-offs, negative externalities and existing conflicting goals between the water, energy and agriculture sectors in a given reference system (municipal level, national level, river basin, ecosystem, etc.). Furthermore, it strives to identify synergies and opportunities for a more just and sustainable use and management of natural resources through promoting a multi-sectoral and inclusive approach, aiming for water, energy and food security in the longer run.
The TBNA methodology strongly builds on a participatory process “to generate a broad range of solutions and actions in response to pressing issues shared in common that are jointly identified by a representative group of stakeholders from key sectors in all riparian states", as laid out in the Synthesis Document on Assesssing the Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystems Nexus in Transboundary Basins. The proposed set of participatory methods includes for example opinion-based questionnaires, brainstorming exercises and joint stakeholder analysis. Next to the technical analysis of natural resources in the respective basin, the assessment methodology further recognizes governance set-up, cycles of decision-making, governance culture and potential causalities for rivalries, as important factors to consider. Generally, Nexus assessment methodologies are at an early stage, where appropriate approaches need to be further developed in terms of their applicability to respective contexts, environments and scales. The TBNA marks a great contribution towards assessing trade-offs and synergies and reconciling conflicting needs and interests between the different sectors on a river basin level.
The Global Nexus Secretariat talked to the authors of the UNECE Synthesis Report on the TBNA Methodology to receive some more insights, lessons learned and suggestions for the way forward.
Nexus Resource Platform: TBNA presents a methodology for a Nexus assessment on a basin-level. What are the challenges and opportunities compared to WEF Nexus assessments on a national or sub-national scale? Can the methodology be applied on different scales?
Mario Roidt and Lucia de Strasser: The work of UNECE focuses on transboundary basins and thus the methodology is specifically designed for analysis at the scale of a transboundary river basin. Regardless of this, national organizations could be inspired by the process to conduct national nexus assessments at the basin scale or link it to national efforts.
The challenges of a transboundary nexus are that more interests are involved. One does not only deal with the interests of different sectors anymore but also with national interests, the strategies of a country and perhaps political matters of two or more countries within completely different fields This may then also be part of the process when these countries enter into a joint nexus assessment. Also the level of complexity increases, because the assessment not only deals with different sectors but with several sectors multiplied by the countries involved.
The opportunities are that a broad participation adds to the quality of the findings and fosters the ownership of the participating sectors and countries. The methodology is also designed in such a way that it gives maximum flexibility to the participants so that it adapts to the various contexts of such assessments; nexus assessments are different every time.
The methodology now also includes the “benefits of transboundary cooperation” to strengthen the cooperation of countries through the activities under the nexus and in the water sector.
Are there lessons learned that could be applicable for other Nexus assessment contexts as well?
Political will is necessary when nexus issues are to be addressed. Also it is important that the process is participatory. If you want to the outcomes to be accepted, you need to involve the right people.
The report calls for the development of Nexus-specific indicators – what do you think should the development process be?
The process of identifying relevant nexus indicator should continue even if there was no intention to specifically compare the basins in those terms. It varies by context which indicators are meaningful for the analysis and in which areas measurable progress is sought. With this, a preferred and realistic set of indictors could be consolidated further down the road. The methodology should here also remain flexible in the sense that no fixed set of indicators is imposed in a nexus assessment. The lack of data or indicators must be tackled but it should not hinder discussion about the issues and about cooperative solutions between sectors and countries.
Some follow-up workshops have been organized as part of basin assessment – what were the outcomes? What were the lessons-learned for organizing follow-up workshops?
Working on the Drina River Basin, we have learned that keeping the dialogue going throughout three workshops gave the opportunity to get more into the details of the quantification exercise – and make the “nexus solutions” clearer. The follow up would then consist of more in-depth nexus analysis and policy dialogues to detail possible solutions rather than further workshops. In both the Caucasus and Central Asia, the recommendations from the nexus assessments were discussed at the European Union Water Initiative’s inter-ministerial National Policy Dialogues.
In addition, awareness raising has been done in regional and sectoral events, and reports and policy briefs have been disseminated.
Ensuring communication of the key assessment outcomes has proven to be one of the key challenges and needs an effective communication strategy in order to convince key decision-makers and stakeholders. What were the experiences?
One experience was e.g. that there is a need to raise awareness among authorities about what the nexus approach is, how it is different from other approaches and what its value added is. We can then further raise awareness about the various policy actions, tools and instruments. The process design of the nexus assessment must already include the dissemination of material to relevant policy and decision-makers. The promotion of findings should then be carried out on a regular basis to ensure that the messages reach the concerned authorities, inform regional water management and development agendas, and are taken up in salient intergovernmental processes.
We have also learned that a well-established network can take the communication strategy much further than what would be possible from the outside. An example is the international Sava River Basin Commission as an existing framework with an established stakeholder network which was key for the Sava and Drina assessments.
Preserving ecosystems play an increasing role within the WEF Nexus approach. The report states, that currently ecosystem concerns are still in the background. Environmental protection is considered in juxtaposition to economic development. What are your thoughts on how this could be tackled?
First, by valuing the natural environment and specific ecosystems. In our methodology, this is done by associating benefits to the functioning of ecosystems. However, benefits do not need to be quantified economically but it is important to underline how much livelihoods depend on them and point at ways forward in terms of “green economy”. Examples are that the untouched nature is a valuable asset for tourism, that forests and floodplains provide protection from floods, that forests can be assets for climate change mitigation and organic agriculture can open new niche markets.
Second, by showing that sectors are often interlinked through ecosystems and therefore addressing tradeoffs can mean improving the status of ecosystems.
Third, the transboundary nexus assessment process provides for a dialogue about the trade-offs between sectoral and economic development on the one hand and protection of the environment on the other.
Interview conducted by Tina Schmiers, GIZ Nexus Team.