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Organisations find New Ways to Address Water, Energy and Food Pressures

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News  |  12 Dec 2013

Scaling Up Nexus Collaboration // Organisations find New Ways to Address Water, Energy and Food Pressures

NGOs, businesses and governments are collaborating to tackle the water, food, energy nexus, but efforts must be scaled up - by Gabrielle Walker, chief scientist at Xyntéo

While the planet's population grows by more than 200,000 every day, climate change is already beginning to dry up water supplies in some parts of the world and over-deliver them in others. Over the next two decades we will need up to 40% more water to meet rising demand, and it's far from clear where that water will come from.

"Water is going to be the commodity of the 21st century." So said Richard Sandor, inventor of financial futures and all-round financial guru a few weeks ago in the City, while an audience of bankers nodded their agreement.

While the planet's population grows by more than 200,000 every day, climate change is already beginning to dry up water supplies in some parts of the world and over-deliver them in others. Over the next two decades we will need up to 40% more water to meet rising demand, and it's far from clear where that water will come from.

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<<fotos/personen/gabrielle_walker_200_b.jpg|c|Gabrielle Walker>>

Gabrielle Walker

is chief scientist at {http://www.xynteo.com/|Xyntéo}, which works with global companies to identify and carry out projects that aim to enable businesses to grow in a new way, fit for the resource, climate and demographic realities of the 21st century.

This article is based on an article originally published in {http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/organisations-address-water-energy-food-pressures|The Guardian} and republished here with kind permission by the autor.

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That's why many policymakers and their influencers are already finding innovative ways to generate and allocate fresh water. Take the world's first water trading system, created to cope with more than a decade of drought and rising demand for water in {http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/australia-murray-darling-basin-plan-river-agriculture|Australia's Murray-Darling basin}. Using market forces to price the use of water has shifted consumption from low-value to high-value activities and created substantial incentives for using water more efficiently. It has saved many Australian farmers from bankruptcy, enabling them to make more money from the sale of water entitlements to urban consumers than by growing crops.

Australia's water trading scheme is now attracting attention from around the world, and so too is another innovative approach from down under: report cards for the health of water catchments. This time the state of Queensland led the way. The authorities assessed the ecological indicators, from the level of aquatic invertebrates and fish to nutrient cycling and acidity levels, against those expected in a healthy water system. They then combined the technical data to give each river system a single grade, A+ to D-, so that all stakeholders could see whether policies are having a positive overall impact or not. The Queensland authorities have brought in the public to choose the indicators that would give each system its grade, and run an annual event for politicians to justify their performance in improving river health.

This same approach was adopted in 2011 by Chinese authorities to monitor major river systems in China including the Gui River, the Pearl River and the Yellow River. And China certainly needs some radical new approaches; the country faces a staggering challenge when it comes to water pollution. Some {http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2011/05/05/how-china-is-dealing-with-its-water-crisis/|300 million Chinese people} have no access to clean water and over half of China's rivers and lakes are polluted.

While the Chinese government wrestles with this, one NGO in China is having an extraordinary impact on reducing water pollution, by taking the unusual step of not just challenging but also collaborating with businesses. The Chinese Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) has repeatedly used international campaigns to highlight the pollution caused by suppliers of major multinationals and pressurise them to act.

For example, Unilever was added to IPE's polluter's list in June 2007, thanks to high levels of pollutants in water discharged from their largest manufacturing facility in Hefei City. Unilever identified the source of the problem — the large amount of waste water discharged every time the product changed and the production line needed to be cleaned. By reducing the number of different products manufactured each day, the company dropped pollution levels to below legal limits. Apple, however, was less quick to react. It took 18 months of a "Poison Apple" campaign by IPE before Apple relaxed its policy of not disclosing supplier information and began to lean on its suppliers to clean up their act.

Then there's the move by the Gujarat Electricity Board in India to discourage farmers from overusing their irrigation pumps in an already drought-prone state. The obvious solution would have been to meter their pump usage and penalise waste, but the farmers' lobby was strong and no politician dared. Instead, the Gujarati government launched a scheme called the {http://www.imd-gujarat.gov.in/schemes/01-023.html|Jyotigram Yojana} which offered access to eight hours a day of guaranteed, high-quality electricity supplies in return for higher electricity prices. The farmers received more reliable electricity and as they now had a cost incentive to be water-efficient, the water table began to recover. India is now looking to apply the same approach to all states.

These examples and many more come from a project we have undertaken in partnership with Shell and Unilever to identify policymakers — and their influencers — working not just in areas related to water but across the stress nexus of food, water, energy and climate. From speaking to more than 120 policy shapers in 15 territories we have found striking examples of smart and in some cases brave men and women tackling a grown-up set of problems in very grown-up ways. In many cases, unusual collaborations turn out to be key. Governments working with NGOs, businesses rolling up their sleeves alongside, not in cahoots or in lobbying, but in the genuine understanding that we now face unprecedented problems in terms of ensuring the world has the basic resources necessary for life, and that these problems cannot be solved by any one government, business, or campaigning organisation. Our findings have been distilled into {http://www.xynteo.com/media/fa8c9306c2833c91a9a2ffe972bb4f3aa5f88c78/Shapers%20report%20for%20web.pdf|"Dispatches from the policy frontline"}, a report detailing some 35 case studies showcasing powerfully positive approaches to policy relating to the nexus.

Our engagement with policymakers, NGOs and business over the past two years has enabled us to establish a core network of practitioners and practices. We want to use this work to create even greater momentum around sustainable policy solutions, not just identifying effective new policy approaches, but also finding ways to spread and scale them, through the medium of a vibrant new community of enlightened people ready to create sensible and enlightened policies.

Keywords

Jyotigram Yojana scheme ; NGOs ; aquatic invertebrates ; climate change ; consumption ; consumption patterns ; ecological indicators ; electricity ; energy ; fishery ; food ; governments ; indicators ; nexus ; nexus approach ; nutrient cycling ; pollution ; population growth ; private sector ; stakeholders ; waste water ; water ; water efficiency ; water-energy-food security nexus ; Apple ; Government of China ; Government of Gujarat ; Gujarat Electricity Board ; Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) (China) ; The Guardian ; Xyntéo ; Walker, Gabrielle ; Sandor, Richard ; Australia ; China ; Hefei ; Huang He (Yellow River) ; India ; Murray-Darling basin ; Queensland

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