event 31 mai 2012

NEXUS Interview // Translating Nexus Research into Nexus Policy-making

The SEI's work on the water, energy and food security nexus <<-->> an interview with Holger Hoff

category Nexus Interviews
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Shutterstock/Tyler Olson
In 2011, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) developed "Understanding the Nexus", the scientific background paper of the Bonn2011 Nexus Conference. Holger Hoff was the main researcher and author of the paper, which presents initial evidence for how a nexus approach can enhance water, energy and food security in a green economy by increasing efficiency, reducing trade-offs, and building synergies across sectors. water-energy-food.org recently conducted a brief interview with the scientist on SEI's on-going research on the Nexus and the challenges of research uptake by policy-makers. #box:addon <>

Holger Hoff

is senior research fellow at SEI Stockholm and part of the theme Managing environmental systems. He is also scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. In Stockholm he coordinates the Green-Blue Water Initiative. {http://www.sei-international.org} #box

NEXUS Platform: How has your research on the water-energy-food security Nexus evolved since last year? Are there any new findings or concepts?

Holger Hoff: Interest in the Nexus approach has grown rapidly, in particular in the co-management of water, land and other natural resources. One follow-up project at SEI is linking this approach to the {http://sei-international.org/planetary-boundaries|planetary boundaries} framework developed by Johan Rockström and others, which attempts to quantify the limits of global resources in order to understand how different boundaries — also at smaller than planetary scale — constrain sustainable development. We are also applying the nexus concept to some of our regional studies, such as in the upper Nile, broadening the scope from integrated water and land management to also include the energy sector, biofuels and hydropower, for example. While we have identified and to some extent also quantified these connections, it will take time for institutions to adopt more integrated approaches.

One of SEI's main goals is "to bring about change for sustainable development by bridging science and policy." Can you explain to our readers and give an example of how the SEI's Nexus-related research has already led or leads to more informed decision- and policy-making regarding energy, water and food security?

Quantifying linkages, trade-offs and potential synergies provides a factual basis for integrated management across sectors towards improved energy, water and food security. SEI has developed scenario and planning tools — especially for {http://www.weap21.org/|water} and {www.energycommunity.org/default.asp?action=47|energy} — that are used by thousands of stakeholders in many countries, basins and regions of the world. SEI is already using these tools to explore the water-energy-food nexus, and this summer, an integrated version of these two tools will be launched that allows for integrated assessments of cross-sectoral effects of different interventions and development pathways. Natural candidates for using this new "nexus tool" are for example those countries' ministries that have multiple responsibilities, such as Ethiopia's Ministry of Water and Energy or Lebanon's Ministry of Energy and Water. With these stakeholders we have recently begun exploring potential applications of this new approach.

SEI was recently asked by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) to write an introduction to the Nexus in the context of Latin America, which was published in the IADB's Sustainability Report 2011. How important is an integrated approach to water, energy and food security in that region?

South America, for example, being rich in water and land resources, is experiencing a rapid agricultural intensification and expansion of cropland, to a large extent driven by demands from abroad for commodities such as soy beans. While this is important for economic development, the challenge is to achieve this intensification without losing important ecosystem services and significantly increasing carbon emissions. At the same time, rapid urbanization across Latin America is boosting demand for both water and energy, and hydropower - a major source of electricity for many of these countries - may not be as viable in the future in some regions because of climate change and other factors constraining water supplies. Our colleagues in SEI's U.S. Centre are doing important work on these issues, including in the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes, and now in the Orinoco River basin in Colombia, one of the last "virgin" regions of the planet. Bioenergy development, agro-industry, petroleum extraction and fisheries now threaten that biodiversity, but a nexus approach can help guide policy and governance to protect ecosystems services.

Is there a particular scale at which the Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus should be addressed? Does the concept and approach lend itself to regional assessments such as "the Nexus" in Sub-Saharan Africa, in the Middle East, in South Asia? In other words, can the Nexus be looked at on various geographic levels?

Absolutely. We believe that an integrated, systemic or "nexus approach" should be applied to systems at all scales, including regional. There is indeed potential for region-specific implementations of the nexus and "nexus solutions", adapted to the specific situation and socio-economic and institutional context. The challenges in the Middle East, for example, are quite different from those in South America, but the same principles apply: overall resource use needs to improve and become more efficient, and waste needs to be reduced, recycled, and used as a resource. Policy coherence needs to be fostered, and enabling conditions for sustainable investments need to be established or reinforced.

SEI's "Understanding the Nexus" has become one of the most read scientific papers on "the Nexus" since it was published last year. Among others, it identified "knowledge gaps" related to the Nexus — could you briefly explain what the main knowledge gaps are and whether and how they can be overcome?

Given that the interdependencies of resource use intensities - inputs of water, energy and other factors - in production and consumption chains are not well known, current footprint analyses such as the water footprint or the carbon footprint do not provide sufficient data and guidance for sustainable production and consumption. This challenge has to be addressed through close collaboration of science, private sector and other groups. A further important knowledge gap lies in the governance of the nexus: there is no blueprint for institutional adaptation to the need for more integrative approaches, systemic thinking and integrated solutions. This can be addressed through collecting good practices and innovations from around the world — such as initiated with the nexus resource platform — and deriving new governance principles from that.

At the recent Africa Water Week, a participant asked about the "newness" of the Nexus approach and how exactly "the Nexus" was different from Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). What is new and different from IWRM?

The nexus concept is not completely new; indeed, it builds on the principles of IWRM and integrated management in other sectors. However, it goes further in that it identifies and quantifies additional interlinkages and synergies across the different sectors. With that it also provides additional scientific underpinning for multi-functional systems, such as crop-biofuel integration, agro-forestry or productive sanitation. The fact that "the nexus" has generated a lot of interest and momentum will hopefully help to move from analysis and planning to implementation - something which has not been achieved in the case of IWRM. Just look at how many national and regional Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus Conferences took place in the recent months — this strongly demonstrates the significance and relevance of the Nexus!

There seems to be at least one more major key player when it comes to resource efficiency and operationalizing the Nexus approach in a Green Economy: the corporate sector. From a scientist's perspective, what is and what should and could be the role(s) of the corporate sector in the interplay between science, policy and business?

The corporate sector is a driver of change in several respects, by generating new demands, by globalizing resource use, and by driving much-needed innovation. A growing number of companies are beginning to implement more integrated "nexus" approaches and solutions: Utilities co-manage water and energy by increasing energy efficiency in water distribution and by retrieving energy from wastewater treatment. Agricultural investors increasingly want to sustainably manage their total resource base. The reputational risk that comes with certain negative social or environmental externalities also motivates companies to pro-actively address nexus principles. However, policies and regulation remain important elements for comprehensively internalizing externalities across the full nexus. Here again, the role of science is to provide the fact base for such regulation.

The Rio+20 summit will take place at the end of June. Is there one or several key findings and key messages you would like to convey to Rio+20?

We believe that the nexus principles can guide the development of more consistent sustainable development goals — SDGs - which simultaneously address the various environmental boundaries as well as water, energy and food security, building on the MDGs.

Thank you for the interview!


Cecilia Vey

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