Managing the relationships between water, energy, food, and ecosystems is a pending issue to address climate change
“It is crucial to go for green transition to recover from COVID”, this is repeated every day from politicians in the European Union. Implementing the Green Deal is a true lifeline for the future of people and the planet threatened by climate change and stifled by Covid-19. The European Green Deal will improve the well-being and health of citizens and future generations. Through creating a healthy environment, sustainably managing the natural resources, using clean energy and promoting healthy food. Indeed, understanding and managing the close interconnections between water, energy and food and their reliance and impact on ecosystems will help address the climate crisis. This interconnection is called the WEFE Nexus approach. Lead by PRIMA, the WEFE Nexus Community of Practice is about to be launched.
Water, energy, food and ecosystems represent the essence of long-term social and economic stability by providing the basis for public goods, the welfare state, peace and security. Population and urbanisation are growing. Demand for water, energy and food increasing. And unprecedented extreme weather and climatic conditions are likely to endanger further the sustainable provision of water, energy, food and ecosystem.
The Mediterranean hotspot
In the Mediterranean, the situation is more alarming. According to Antonella Autino, Program Coordinator of PRIMA, “the Mediterranean is considered a hotspot for global warming, deteriorating ecosystems and inefficient use of scarce resources. In the context of population growth, economic development and current climate change effects, ecosystems are deteriorating, and the management of our water, food and energy systems is becoming more and more complex”.
Therefore, it is impossible to achieve sustainable development and social stability by dealing with water, energy, food and ecosystems as separate resources. A holistic, integrated and transversal approach represented by WEFE Nexus is vital to respond to the challenges of the Mediterranean.
“Successful implementation of WEFE Nexus solutions in Mediterranean countries is the only solution to effectively alleviate the situation and pave the way for the green economy and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals“, affirms Autino.
Almotaz Abadi, Managing Director of the Union of the Mediterranean, adds that “apart from resource scarcity, the Mediterranean has to deal with conflict, migration and all challenges are closely intertwined”. He explains: “In the Mediterranean, more than 85% of water is used for agricultural purposes, and the region also has the highest dependency on food imports. Over the years, agricultural productivity has not increased in a meaningful way. Food loss and waste have reached alarming levels with huge implications on water, land, energy and GHG emissions. The region is a global hotspot for the over-exploitation of groundwater, a resource that will be rapidly depleted in the coming decades. In light of this, future agricultural policies will need to rely heavily on other irrigation sources such as wastewater reuse while following more stringent guidelines for reducing waste. Opportunities around demand management of water are well articulated but underutilised. Interlinkages across sectors (water, food, energy) and the natural resources base (water, land, soils) are understood but not adequately reflected in policies.”
The European Commission agrees. Katja Klasinc, Policy Officer at the Directorate-General Research and Innovation, emphasises that it is “tremendously important to transit to a more sustainable and integrated resource management, respecting the specific interlinkages and interdependencies of these individual sectors.”
From European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, Giovanni Bidoglio adds: “By matching the interests of different stakeholders and economic sectors, Nexus offers opportunities for the design of shared solutions to control conflicts, achieve sustainability and reduce inequalities”.
From theory to practice
Easier said than done. Transforming the WEFE Nexus approach from theory into practice is significantly difficult. “Application and implementation of Nexus are in their infancy; we still lack knowledge on the interactions, feedbacks and adaptation options across the Nexus”, Almotaz says. Klasinc agrees: “The Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystems Nexus is highly complex, and not all of its interdependencies are fully understood at this point. Then, striking a balance between resources and avoiding the prioritisation of specific resource uses might prove challenging”.
Moreover, the Nexus approach requires involving various sectors and stakeholders, which may be demanding to coordinate. According to Bidoglio, “the challenge is to provide communities, decision makers and the private sector with evidence of the collective benefits deriving from the adoption of a Nexus transformative approach as opposed to disjoined sectoral actions, and this requires improving collaboration among stakeholders and, for researchers, broadening the toolkit with which to provide clear demonstrations of the proposed Nexus solutions to policy designers”.
Last September, multiple stakeholders and researchers gathered at the WEFE Nexus Science Advances Conference to build a more systemic and integrated way of thinking and acting. They agreed that overcoming the multiple Nexus-related Mediterranean challenges is necessary, considering both cross-sectoral interdependencies and regionalisation. “Research and Innovation are much needed to understand the complexities of Nexus better, demonstrate concrete, feasible and sustainable solutions with the involvement of regional actors. In the end, the aim is to ultimately provide more substantial evidence based on reliable knowledge for decision-making”, Autino says.
Trailer of the WEFE Nexus Science Advances Conference.
PRIMA has extensive experience with Nexus issues in the Mediterranean. Since 2019 the PRIMA programme has successfully implemented cross-cutting R&I calls on Nexus themes. PRIMA WEFE Nexus calls are welcomed by the scientific society. Research teams are joining from different countries with actors from various fields to work together to facilitate the uptake of new solutions, the dissemination of best practices, and their replication at national and regional levels.
PRIMA is funding six projects addressing WEFE Nexus, where 71 participating entities are involved with a total allocated budget of 17.07M€. “Although other projects focused on other thematic areas such as farming are also working on Nexus”, Autino clarifies.
Nexus-Ness is one of these projects. It seeks to merge earth science, engineering, social sciences and humanities, transferring WEFE Nexus top science, data and tools to solve real field issues. The project’s general goal is to test the practical value of embracing Nexus approaches in four diverse geographic, climatic and socio-demographic regions of the Euro-med area, in Italy, Spain, Tunisia and Egypt, to co-demonstrate with hundreds of stakeholders the multiple benefits of the Nexus-Ness solution.
Fernando Nardi, the Project coordinator of Nexus-Ness, explains: “Preserving the environment while supporting the fair allocation of water, energy, land and food resources will decrease nuisance effects of natural disasters guaranteeing sustainable and safe growth. At the same time, Nexus approaches will also increase social resilience and promote environmental justice. These multiple benefits are crucial assets, brought by Nexus approaches, supporting the transition of society towards a greener, healthier and more prosperous future”.
He thinks that “PRIMA has been leading the way for supporting sustainability and safety of the Euro-med area since its inception”. He adds that “the WEFE Nexus, as one of the main selected pillars of the PRIMA program and now, the Community of Practice, are undoubtedly the optimal sequence of actions for converting and merging science, technological and industrial innovations into real-life improvements for citizens“.
The Community of Practice
Nexus Community of Practice was the primary outcome of the WEFE Nexus Science Advances Conference. Multiple initiatives like the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the EU Green Deal, the Barcelona Declaration adopted at the Euro Mediterranean Conference, and related UfM Roadmap for Action are already promoting science-based targets to examine different forms of interdependencies. They aim at providing a convincing body of evidence on response strategies overcoming contrasting perspectives of the various stakeholders. Today, a step forward has to be taken: scientists and stakeholders working together to ensure that Nexus solutions emerging from R&I activities can be applied broadly and impact the future WEFE decision-making.
The Community of Practice will be steered by a Nexus CoP Core Group of organisations, namely European Commission’s DG Research and Innovation, European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the UfM Secretariat, under the lead of PRIMA. The NCoP Core Group will guide the overall activities of the Community of Practice and facilitate the network’s vision, development and future directions through monitoring and evaluating the impact of the initiative.
“The peculiar aspect of the Mediterranean WEFE Nexus CoP is that it will be built around concrete demonstration sites showcasing positive experiences from different places in the Mediterranean region”, Bidoglio highlights.
Klasinc explains that “the Community of Practice is an excellent starting point to exchange region-specific knowledge and best practice”. She adds that “PRIMA is extremely well placed to lead this effort and share its expertise and network with all interested stakeholders, so that with the support of its partners, being the European Commission and the Union for the Mediterranean, this Community of Practice can contribute substantially to alleviating resource pressures in the Mediterranean”.
PRIMA kick-starts and leads the development of the Mediterranean WEFE Nexus Community of Practice by launching a call for a Coordinated Support Action (CSA) to create the operational unit engaged in the development and daily management of this Community. The CSA has been included in the PRIMA Annual Work Plan 2022 under the Nexus theme. Deployed at different demonstration sites across the Mediterranean region, this Implementation Team will manage the daily operations of the NCoP, building the Community and engaging with its members to promote discussions and projects.
It is the best way to include the WEFE Nexus into the Mediterranean countries’ national policies. Because this new approach is called to play a crucial role. Not only will it achieve water, energy and food securities, it will also contribute to the transition to a green economy and the achievement of SDGs. Autino highlights that the Community of Practice has been recognised by high-level European Commission representatives and Euro-Med ministers. It should serve as a solution to bridge the gap between science and practice and help promote and mainstream innovative, science-based policy and technical solutions to improve sustainable resource management.