Nexus Interview // Prof. Paulo Barbosa of São Paulo School of Advanced Science on the Water-Energy-Food Nexus

In this interview, the Nexus Resource Platform speaks with Prof. Paulo Barbosa of São Paulo School of Advanced Science about his role in establishing an international academic exchange programme on the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus, his future plans for this project as well as the WEF Nexus challenges in Brazil.

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Prof. Paulo Barbosa is part of the organising committee in the São Paulo School of Advanced Science on the Water-Energy-Food Nexus, which currently started a scholarship programme to give a selection of talented students worldwide access to most recent and cutting-edge research on the WEF nexus. He has intensively researched the Brazil's water-energy Nexus and developed several Nexus-related research projects.

Nexus Resource Platform (NRP): Prof. Barbosa, what is you role in the Sao Paulo School of Advanced Science (SPAS)? How long have you been working on Nexus projects? How was this project developed?  

Prof. Paulo Barbosa: As part of the organising committee, I participated in the initial discussion about the São Paulo School of Advanced Science, it's main conceptual framework and the overall program. This also included the logistics and our cooperation with the Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).

Brazil's water-energy Nexus has been on my research agenda since I completed my MA thesis in 1986. Since then, I have contributed to the development of several Nexus-related research projects. Since hydropower is the main source of electric power generation in Brazil, the connection between water and energy plays a very important role in planning and operating hydropower reservoirs. Many of these reservoirs are being used for multiple purposes, including irrigation. The water-energy Nexus is crucial in this regard.

In 2009, I had the opportunity to meet Professor John Briscoe from the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard University, with whom I collaborated on research related to water security issues. Aware of the great possibilities provided by interdisciplinary research, I helped co-create the graduate program in water, energy and environmental resources here at the University of Campinas-Unicamp, São Paulo as part of the School of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Urban Design. This significantly facilitated interdisciplinary research by MA and PhD students, and consequently also integrative research topics like the water-energy-food (WEF) Nexus.

Rio has been known for its role in international environmental agreements since the famous 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, as well as the Earth summit 20 years later. What are  the current challenges in Brazil in achieving sustainable WEF security? How do you think these important agreements have affected the country over the last 20 years?

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Prof. Paulo Barbosa: Over the past three decades, many concerns about environmental issues have been voiced and addressed in Brazil. Several laws and decrees on the federal, state and municipal levels have been implemented and many relevant international conferences have been held here.

The UN conference and such policies have had a positive impact. Only a small number of hydropower plants with large-scale reservoirs have been built over the past twenty years due to strict governmental regulations. In addition, the Brazilian federal water law, which came into effect in 1997, had many positive effects on fostering decentralised river basin management.

In terms of energy planning, the shift to non-hydraulic renewable resources - mainly biomass and wind power, and more recently solar power - over the past decade has been remarkable. The potential of onshore wind power in Brazil lies at nearly 350 GW. In the last four years, the average annual growth rate of wind power has been above 20%.

Despite all this progress, there are still many WEF Nexus-related challenges in Brazil. For many governmental institutions, the interdependencies between these three vital dimensions are still not clear. Their interrelation becomes most evident during times of crisis, such as severe droughts, when stakeholders have to negotiate and compromise to find solutions. This is why we need to develop research projects and train students and professionals on the importance of the WEF Nexus. This will allow us to achieve both higher security levels as well as optimised use of natural resources.

The Advanced School on Water Energy Food Nexus is planning to give talented pre-PhD students, postdoctoral fellows and young researchers from around the world and diverse backgrounds, access to most recent and cutting-edge research on the WEF nexus. What is your plan for the participants?

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Prof. Paulo Barbosa: We recently completed the selection process and selected 80 talented pre-PhD students, postdoctoral fellows and young researchers out of 300 applications. Of the selected applicants, 40 come from across the world, including the United Kingdom, USA, Germany, China, France, Spain, Hungary, Italy, Argentina, Mexico, Chile and Colombia, as well as many universities, such as Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, Harvard and many more. We selected 40 participants from Brazil. Including the lecturers from Brazil and abroad, the total number of participants is 100.

The participants will have the opportunity to learn how to analyse complex systems by understanding the societal, economic and environmental impacts involved in decision-making regarding technology innovation and policy design. They will learn different assessment methods, modelling techniques and risk analysis, which they can apply individually or in combination with research projects, decision-making processes and policy development. We are honoured that FAPESP, the Sao Paulo state research foundation, provided financial support to all selected participants.

You set this project up to facilitate global networking and in order to establish the Sao Paulo region as an international hub for nexus research. Could the region serve as a model for other world regions facing similar challenges?

Prof. Paulo Barbosa: Our plan is not to create a model for Nexus research, since a well-balanced WEF Nexus depends heavily on regional aspects. But I think that the discussions and exchange of ideas and experiences can foster the development of general concepts and methodologies, which could potentially be replicated in other parts of the world. We realize that beyond Brazil, many other parts of the world are now beginning to develop theories and applications for the WEF Nexus approach.

What are your plans for the future? Are you planning to create a regular exchange, or maybe even set up bi-national or multinational opportunities  to study the Nexus Approach or initiate cooperation with similar projects in other countries?

Prof. Paulo Barbosa: I think that our School of Advanced Science has major potential to open up avenues of academic collaboration among the participants and institutions. A diverse international research network on the WEF Nexus is an important output of SPSAS. We are planning future international research projects, training courses and conferences encompassing the WEF Nexus as the central theme. We strongly believe that these initiatives can be the basis for future national or regional policies that lead to increased WEF security and  the balancing of its components.

Prof. Barbosa, thank you for the interview!

Interview conducted by Dominique Marr, Editors' Team of the Nexus Resource Platform

Further Reading 

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