Highlights from the Workshop: “The Water-Energy-Food Nexus and its linkages to the implementation of the SDGs”

On November 21-23, 2016, the Future Earth/Sustainable Water Future Programme (SWFP) Water-Energy-Food Cluster Project, the South African Water Research Commission, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the SWFP sponsored the fourth (of four) regional workshop for the W-E-F Nexus Cluster study.  The workshop, which focused on the W-E-F Nexus and its links to the implementation of the Food, Water, and Energy SDGs, attracted 45 participants from four continents. It was held in Hilton, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.  The workshop provided critical inputs for a synthesis report that is being prepared based on four regional workshops for Future Earth and Belmont Forum.  In particular, the workshop was successful in identifying the critical issues related to the W-E-F Nexus generally in Africa and particularly in southern Africa; assessing information needs and the potential benefits of Earth observations and integrated information systems in the W-E-F Nexus context; and identifying governance gaps in addressing W-E-F Nexus issues and requirements for information and strategies to improve the performance of the water, energy, and food sectors.  The workshop also helped identify the role of a W-E-F Nexus approach to support the effective implementation of the SDGs and the potential for the UN SDG process to support the W-E-F Nexus.

The W-E-F Nexus in Africa is influenced by population growth, urbanization, economic development, environmental degradation, a need for investment, and coordination between sectors.  Participants learned that in sub-Saharan Africa, the primary W-E-F issues include food security, water for hydroelectric production, and biofuel production. Uncertainties in these W-E-F processes are augmented by the large variability of precipitation across Africa.  Information gathered through Earth observations and citizen science can be applied to tracking this variability and assessing longer-term changes associated with land use change and industrial development.

In terms of governance, some examples showed that government plays a major role in W-E-F Nexus issues, while other examples showed that lack of transparency led to opposition against large developments by citizen groups. In the case of transboundary basin planning, there is an urgent need to develop cooperative mechanisms to facilitate planning and management of W-E-F processes.

Many of the presentations underlined the effects of the W-E-F Nexus on the environment.  These effects arise from economic and social development as well as environmental stressors and include urbanization, the effects of a changing climate, the availability of land, the effects of mining on land availability and water quality, and over-pumping of groundwater resources, among others.  Innovations to improve the W-E-F Nexus include biomass-optimized crop production, biological sulphate reduction in mine wastewater treatment, and the development of strategies for reducing water requirements.

The governance discussions highlighted the need to understand power relations and the role of governments within that context.  The role of the W-E-F Nexus and its contribution to sustainable development both need to be developed. Non-state players (private sector, non-governmental organizations, citizens’ interest groups, media, etc.) can help identify gaps, influence decision-making, and provide new services.  They can also generate alternative ideas and a broader perspective on the impacts and consequences of implementing the W-E-F Nexus.

Development agendas need to be transparent and democratic and information and data need to be accessible.  Cultural nuances and historical backgrounds must also be considered.  Shared values are needed to support transboundary water cooperation and to extend this approach to the energy and food sectors. Management needs to provide innovations, while governance should be supportive and create the enabling environment.  W-E-F Nexus champions are needed at the management level to accelerate these developments.  Current levels of information are not sufficient to support successful W-E-F Nexus governance.  Education and information platforms are needed along with training programs to enable students to more effectively undertake transdisciplinary research.   The need to inform managers and policy makers with summary statistics on the status of W-E-F Nexus implementation was discussed in some detail and a proposal for a W-E-F Nexus index was proposed.

In the observation and science discussions, participants agreed that the science community should promote open data archives and data-sharing for partners in W-E-F Nexus studies with a view to making these data open to all.  Pilot projects should be undertaken to assess possible indicators for the W-E-F Nexus. Based on these pilot projects, a suite of indicators could be produced on a regular basis.  It was recommended that a project be launched to evaluate the potential of citizen science to inform some integrated aspect of the W-E-F Nexus in a critical region.  This project, which would focus on the use of citizen data, would include data collection, its use by W-E-F Nexus stakeholders, and integration with conventional data. A plan for an information platform featuring water, land, energy, food, ecosystems (including forestry), and socio-economic data should be developed through a consultative process. This could possibly allow the W-E-F Nexus to be framed as a risk management challenge.

A discussion paper on the W-E-F Nexus and its potential contributions to the water, food, and energy sectors was introduced at the workshop.  Follow-up inputs are helping to refine this paper as a more formal contribution the W-E-F Nexus study.

The workshop was followed by a Science-Policy Dialogue in Johannesburg, during which a number of managers from the South African government, UN agencies and non-governmental organisations provided their views on the W-E-F Nexus and the ways in which it could be addressed at the national and regional levels.


Special thanks go to Dr. Sylvester Mpandeli, Dr. Graham Jewitt, Dr. Sabine Stuart-Hill, Dr. Claudia Pahl-Wostl, Ms. Susan Risko, Ms. Andrée-Anne Boisvert, and Ms. Ntombi Nxumalo for helping to organise, coordinate, and document this workshop.

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News Item Courtesy Of:
Richard Lawford
Sustainable Water Future Programme