event 27 juin 2017

Nexus Interview // Dr. Rabi Mohtar: The Nexus-demand is there, but science is lagging behind practical solutions

Dr. Rabi Mohtar is one of the key researchers in the field of the Water-Energy-Food Nexus. His primary research priority is the development of a framework to quantify the interlinkages of the Water-Energy-Food Nexus that is constrained by climate change and social, political, and technological pressures.

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(C) UNU Flores/Ricardo Vigh (IOER), Dresden Nexus Conference 2017.

Dr. Rabi Mohtar is a TEES Research Professor at Texas AM University, College Station, Texas. He is the Founding Director of Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) a member of Qatar Foundation, Research and Development and the Founding Director Strategic Projects at Qatar Foundation Research and Development.

Nexus Resource Platform (NRP): What is your work in the WEF-Nexus?

Dr. Rabi Mohtar: I am leading a research group at Texas A&M. Our research group is developing the WEF-Nexus Tool Kit 2.0. It contains several thematic applications e.g. WEF-security in various locations in the world. And we have been working on the SDG´s a as a thematic thrust. But we have also regional and geographic applications for the Nexus. Our philosophy is that we do the analytics and the scenario based approaches to connect the WEF-profiles and to model the interfaces and interactions. We developed an assessment tool to evaluate various levers e.g. policy or technology to allow the users of our kit (e.g. a policy maker, a concerned citizen or someone from industry) to prioritise their actions.

What does your Nexus toolkit offer?

The tool offers a systematic protocol and a change of paradigm to look at primary resources management. In specific it offers: a) evaluation protocol to guide the choice of water or energy technology or policy, b) a climate change adaptation road map, c) a renewable energy readiness assessment and road map for achieving higher deployment of renewable energy and d) a guide for nexus tools for various applications.

How useful is the Nexus concept for your particular work?

Let me give you the example of Texas to illustrate the usefulness: We have been working on the long-term suitability of the energy sector including future energy portfolio. It is for industry and public sector’s interest to reduce the water footprint for the energy production, but there are several ways to do this. There are for example technological options such as on-site treatment for brackish water and other water sources options that will provide for sustainable, long-term solutions. So our tool kit can help them with that.

"The Nexus work is a passion for our group."

What is the role of academics for the Nexus?

Our role as an academic is to provide the pathways. We don´t force of course the decision. We disseminate knowledge, we disseminate the tool as an aid for decision making. Our role is to develop the analytics, to show the trade-offs. We communicate them, but we don’t force any solution. The Nexus work is a passion for our group.

"Who owns the Nexus and who is going to pay for it?"

Isn't there a gap between science and implementation sometimes?

Unlike other fields of science, the Nexus has been driven by the policy demand for holistic solutions. Our first Nexus publications were been driven by the ongoing discussion in Bonn 2011 and the World Economic Forum among others. It is not an issue that you need to convince policy makers that you conceptually need this nexus. Everybody is on board at the conceptual level, they know we have to do this. The challenge is, how to provide the tools that are easy to use. The demand is there, the awareness is there, because it started from the policy level as a way to address global interconnected challenges. I don’t have a problem convincing my stakeholders that the Nexus is needed. But unfortunately we are not at the level to deliver solutions yet. The science is lagging behind somehow. Our understanding of the complex system of systems is lagging. The global community is in desperate need of holistic solutions. The bigger question beside our ability to deliver on these tools is more of a governance of the nexus solutions; who owns the nexus and who is going to pay for it?

A special focus of your work is the MENA-region. Is MENA a driving factor for the Nexus work?

Yes, MENA is a key region for the WEF-Nexus. If you look at the region, you see that it has no buffer as to water, energy and food resources. It reached a stage where you are in the middle of a crisis: a food, water, and energy crisis, except maybe for the Gulf states who possesses oil reserve that has been able to compensate for the lack of water and food resources. Because of that you have an urgency there. And I think the awareness is global in terms of the needs and the demand of this particular region.

How can you and your team support the region?

For example we partnered with the UN ESCWA to develop training material for regional WEF stakeholders on how do you do “Nexus”, how you do modeling, how the whole process works on how you get political coherence. Another way is to connect our forces with other projects and organisations, for instance the collaboration with the Nexus Resource Platform or with the Nexus Observatory and to develop an E-platform that provide online support for developing nexus modeling and tradeoff analysis.

"I don´t believe that we can create a one for all Nexus-model."

What are the key challenges for your Nexus-work?

Creating better dialogue between science and policy communities that help us better define key questions that matters to society is a key challenge. In addition, financial support to promote better Nexus research continues to be a challenge. Scientifically, the challenge will be identifying what kind of a model we need for the Nexus. I don´t believe that we can create a one for all Nexus-model. It does not work to take several models, just put a band around and say ‘this is the Nexus model’. There are a lot of issues with model integration and assimilation. For example how do you develop a useful toolkit? As I said earlier, the demand is there for such integrated modeling, but we are not able yet to develop a consistent platform.

What do you do to further develop your Nexus work?

We are just at the beginning. There are many, many questions unanswered. For instance the obvious questions: Defining the Nexus and what Nexus are we talking about? Do we talk about the farm scale? The village scale? Is it at the national level or transboundary? Who is going to use our Nexus approaches: an energy utility company or is it a minister? But these questions dictate what kind of tool you need, what type of data. But all of these issues are still up in the air. All of the questions requires convergence from the active Nexus community which is currently happening at Nexus conferences and workshops around the world. At Texas A&M we hosted one of these meetings for the community to deliberate higher level science and policy questions.

"We have to put the concepts into action now and making some progress."

How can we solve the problems with different concepts and approaches?

We answered some general questions, we have some concepts, but now we have to put these into action and making some progress. And we should not go back to the very beginning we must build on what we know and develop practical solutions to demonstrate these solutions on the ground. My perspective is to develop a solution, others have to get that solution into action. I am a researcher, I am not in the field. So of course there are several different perspectives on the challenges and solutions. I am looking at a model, a tool, a technology or a scientific discovery. We must work with entrepreneurs, the public sector and practitioners on the ground to implement these solutions.

What are the challenges for the scientific discourse?

Conference like at the Dresden Nexus Conference or the Nexus Workshop we held at Texas A&M in January 2017 have have brought the Nexus research issues to the forefront. The Nexus research community is mainly challenged with building on disciplinary knowledge in water, energy, food, systems theory, and data modelling to develop and enhance Nexus research and deliver the tools and technologies needed to meet global challenges.

"It should be clear what the Nexus is!"

What should the academic discourse look like in the future?

What the Nexus is should be clear! It must involve water, energy, and food. It needs to be multidisciplinary and to look into this as a bundle and not from a centric approach. Those principles are very clearly laid out in the literature. Discussions are now centered on fostering the community of science in the Nexus and developing the mechanisms to communicate across the wide interests of such a community.

Interview compiled by Katharina Mikulcak and Michael Stoyke (NRP editorial team) at the Dresden Nexus Conference 2017.

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