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Why the Nexus lens is crucial for Rio+20 and beyond

This November, the Bonn2011 Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus Conference is tipped to be one of the most important issues-focussed meetings in the lead up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, commonly known as Earth Summit 2012 or Rio+20. As many of you will know, Rio is going to focus on two core themes: the Green Economy in the context of poverty eradication and Institutional Frameworks for Sustainable Development Governance.

Both themes cover a variety of different issues, with the majority of which directly linked to water, energy and food in one way or another, whether regarding the management of these resources; the access to each of them; proposals for agricultural reform; or a whole host of others. Notably, UNEP recently published Towards a Green Economy which explains that "an economy which results in improved human well-being and social equity while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities" is green.

In tackling the knotty issue of how to achieve one, the publication dedicates three full chapters to each Water, Energy and Food; indicating the significance that all three will have in the lead-up to; debates during; and action taken after Rio.

The Bonn2011 Nexus Conference will seek to foster debate that integrates both an awareness and understanding of the inextricable connectedness between the three; and it aims to develop policy recommendations that will drive the policy debate towards an integrated approach to decision-making.

This is no mean feat: policy-making favours simplicity and short-term gains. The status quo does not lend itself to appreciating complexity or long-term analyses, and there are already those becoming unsettled about a Nexus approach that will — in a phrase — make their life less easy. But "easy" and "simple" are not necessarily the adjectives that should define the modus operandi of policy-makers; I would much prefer it if those who hold positions of responsibility towards wider society are driven by a sense of acting 'responsibly' and 'analytically' and able to appreciate the complex processes that govern our lives and make decisions accordingly.

Which is why it is appropriate that dealing with complexity is at the heart of the Nexus approach: Nexus thinking offers a framework within which issues can be better understood and it seeks to equip decision-makers at all levels — from National Governments to Village elders — with the tools to address the three securities on conjunction with one another.

The World Economic Forum has published its 2011 Global Risks analysis {knowledge_base|also see Knowledge Base}, within which it becomes clear that the three securities of water, energy and food are but a few of many that are woven together in the complex web of a globalised world. The pressures that are being placed on both natural and human systems are threatening the security of not just a handful of natural resources; but the very foundation upon which humanity has hitherto existed.

We are now more aware than ever that an action taken in one part of the world may have unintended and rather serious consequences for a population that had no say in the matter. We are able to mature our understanding of the risks associated with breaching planetary boundaries; and develop tools for coping with complexity. The preparatory process for the Bonn2011 Nexus Conference is engaging with stakeholders from across the sectors and around the globe, as well as governments and policy-makers to bring together all of those actors who will play a crucial role in implementing the Nexus approach.

Nexussed thinking doesn't just stop with the decision-making. It carefully analyses the long-term impacts that each decision will have. The approach encourages joining up the dots of the diverse and complex web of life; and, like a spider who tends to the web so carefully, taking a nexus view ensures that if one area of the web - or one link - is under threat, then swift action will need to be taken to prevent further damage to other areas undermining the intricate and delicate threads that keep our world in balance.

This blog is an edited version of an article originally published on the Environmental Regulation and Information Centre (ERIC) websitehttp://www.eric-group.co.uk/blog.php?content_id=268.

Kirsty Schneeberger is also a Council Member of the UK Environmental Law Association, a trustee of the charity the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC), a Director of the ICE Coalition, and an adviser to the Intergenerational Foundation. Contact: kschneeberger@stakeholderforum.org

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