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Conventional planning and decision-making often fail to address what are inherently inter-linked and inter-dependent processes. If the future needs of the global population are to be met, particularly the needs of the poor who do not have access to basic services, a more inter-linked approach to tackling water, food and energy issues is necessary.

The Water, Food and Energy (WFE) nexus is a new perspective that aims to balance development priorities in a more integrated manner. The approach supports a transition to

“Your outcome for development will be different if you look at the needs and problems from an integrated perspective—what are the issues related to food, sanitation, water—rather than solely focusing on one sector.” – Uschi Eid, Co-Chair of the Bonn 2011 Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus Conference

sustainability by reducing trade-offs and generating additional benefits that outweigh the transaction costs associated with stronger integration across sectors. The nexus approach looks to improve access to water resources by different users and promotes an ecosystems approach.

It was with this nexus approach in mind that the EDF Group and the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food organized a High Level Panel on Water, Food and Energy on March 16th, 2012 as part of the World Water Forum.

The High Level Panel was a continuation of the dialogue initiated at the Bonn2011 Conference on the Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus. It also reflected the recent recommendations of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability to work across fragmented ‘silos’ and strive for development within planetary boundaries.

Eight case studies from across the world were presented at the event. Each case study focused on one of the WFE Key messages:

  1. Policy coherence – integrated policies, non-silo’d thinking, linking up across sectors and ministries
  2. Accelerate access to basic water, food and energy – recognize human rights-based considerations in access to water, food and energy
  3. Create less with more – improve productivity and sustainable intensification
  4. End waste and minimize losses – reduce waste across supply chains to capture significant environmental gains
  5. Recognition of natural infrastructure – invest in multi-functional nature of ecosystems
  6. Mobilize consumer influence – engage and actively involve consumers to change behaviors and influence the way business is done

The panel felt that the messages provided a pragmatic framework for taking the nexus discussions forward with government, private sector, civil society and other actors.

Photo credit: 6th World Water Forum

One case study, presented by CPWF Director Dr. Alain Vidal, focused on benefit sharing mechanisms in the Andes. Despite the absence of a legal framework, a private hydropower company and the public water company of the city of Cuenca, Ecuador jointly set up a River Basin Council to invest in conservation activities that would benefit upstream communities and in turn, benefit downstream urban communities with improved waterflows.  The program focused on improving the quality of life of the rural families living in the middle and lower parts of the basin as a strategy to avoid the expansion of agricultural areas to the upper parts of the water-producing basin. Presently, 1,400 families are involved, all of whom have successfully implemented agroforestry practices and conservation of resources.

“We live in a world today where all too often development policies seem almost perfectly designed to produce conflict between multiple sectors, particularly energy and agriculture, over water resources,” said Alain Vidal.

There was general agreement amongst the panel that addressing the nexus between water, food and energy is essential if the future needs of the global population are to be met, particularly the poor who do not have currently have access to basic services.

It was also agreed that the provision of water, food and energy are all services provided by ecosystems and therefore, ecosystems and biodiversity are at the heart of the nexus. Emerging models exist for protecting ecosystems and the services they provide.

Along these lines, concerns were raised about avoiding what was called the ‘race to the bottom’ where advances in one sector produce losers in another. Experience presented from case studies demonstrate the value and benefits of taking a more integrated approach, including the savings from avoided negative impacts.

There were a number of commitments made by key members of the panel:

  • EDF committed to 1) evaluate their own global footprint 2) maintain or decrease their water footprint, and 3) create local value.
  • Wetlands International committed to work on the nexus in relation to the provision of ecosystems services with three international basin organizations in the Niger River, the Senegal River and the Danube River.
  • EDF, CPWF and Wetlands International committed to set up a Working Group to promote sustainability considerations in hydropower development in selected international river basins in conjunction with  the International Hydropower Association.
Want to learn more?
-Visit our event landing page.
-Watch a video from the High Level Panel.
-Read press coverage: