Insight from the 2018 Nexus Conference at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
In April, the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, USA) hosted the second Nexus Conference. The event embraced a “nexus” approach, focusing on the interlinkages that exist across and between water, energy and food systems, and how these interactions can better be understood and managed. By gathering a broad community of researchers, decision-makers and civil-society representatives from a range of sectors and disciplines, the Nexus Conference provided a space for collaboration and knowledge-sharing where the nexus community could build a common vision. Their vision will be discussed at this year’s High Level Political Forum on sustainable development. The conference was also an opportunity for the Future Earth Nexus Knowledge-Action Network to present its recently published Research and Engagement Plan. This article gathers some of the key insights from various participants.
The relevance of a water-energy-food nexus approach
Dr Louise Karlberg from the Stockholm Environment Institute highlighted the debate over the relevance of the nexus approach since the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, a set of 17 sustainable development goals to be achieved by 2030 under the umbrella of the United Nations. Although the SDGs provide a broader and more integrated framework of action than a nexus approach, Dr Louise Karlberg argued that the nexus approach remains important as it is not possible to “carry the whole of the SDGs at all times”. A nexus approach is key to tackling complexity, especially when it comes to communicating findings to decision-makers.
From left to right: Dr Louise Karlberg (Stockholm Environment Institute), Alf Wills (Department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa) and Minu Hemmati (GenderCC – Women for Climate Justice) (Photo: Tom Fuldner)
Importance of optimisation, synergies and trade-offs
Nexus approaches encompass much more than just integration, including optimisation, synergies and trade-offs. According to Dr Mathew Kurian from the United Nations University, a water-energy-food nexus approach is crucial to undertaking the transformations needed for tomorrow. Such transformations are most notably needed in the energy and agricultural sectors, which while relying on water, provide two of the most fundamental resources for human development.
Engaging and ensuring that the concept is relevant for stakeholders is another challenge. Dr Minu Hemmati, a specialist in multi-stakeholder processes, argued that in order to be successful, nexus approaches should seek to include a wide array of actors, considering often-overlooked cultural and individual dimensions, as well as gender inequalities. Alf Wills, from the Department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa, suggested that entry points into the nexus must come from “your biggest constraint.” The constraint could be water scarcity, for example. From the key constraint, key connections to other systems must be identified to find synergies, avoid tradeoffs and in turn optimise the use of one’s resources. Vincent Virat, from the Future Earth Secretariat, presented one of the case-studies from the Nexus Knowledge-Action Network
Research and Engagement Plan, highlighting the challenges of participatory mechanisms for the nexus at the local level.
Vincent Virat, from the Future Earth Secretariat (Photo: Tom Fuldner)
The urban dimension of the nexus concept
Development of infrastructure
Need for good data and models
The role of capacity building
- Nexus 2018 Message
- Conference Program
- Conference Abstract Book, detailing the mentioned participants’ contributions
- Vincent Virat’s contribution to the conference, “Participatory Governance Mechanisms for the Nexus: A California Case-study”, from the Future Earth Water-Energy-Food Knowledge-Action Network.
DATEMay 16, 2018
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