Wetlands – the “nexus” linking water, food and energy

Wetlands – the “nexus” linking water, food and energy

22 November 2013

Wetlands provide the link between water, food and energy. To maintain our supply of water, food and energy, we need to maintain the relevant wetland ecosystem services and cooperate with our counterparts in the water, food and energy sectors.

In this context, a new “nexus” approach could drive integrated land and water use planning in many river basins during the coming years. A nexus is a connection, and wetlands are the connecting element through which the water needed for our food and energy production flows. Ramsar focal points have an opportunity to contribute, by getting in contact with the groups focusing on this approach and applying their experience in wetlands and their ecological concerns to the inter-sectoral work.

In November 2011, a conference in Berlin on “The Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus – Solutions for the Green Economy” called for joined-up solutions to the challenges of securing each resource. Participants warned that “In our interconnected world, sectoral ‘silos’ are no longer acceptable ways to approach our targets, because solutions based only on one sector or discipline will unavoidably affect other sectors, whether by design or accident. Nowhere are the interconnections more evident – and critical – than in the water, energy and food sectors, because each is not only connected to, but is also dependent on the others.”

Busko reservoir lake in the Livanjsko karst polje Ramsar Site illustrates the nexus between water storage for hydropower, agriculture and domestic use and the provision of important habitats for wild species and grazing livestock.

The Berlin conference did not give sufficient recognition to the wetlands’ essential hydrological functions. However, the UNECE Water Convention has since added this critical element to its programme of work for an “assessment of the water-food-energy-ecosystems nexus” to be implemented at first in selected transboundary river basins (more here).

Following up on the Berlin conference, about 70 experts from numerous sectors and government ministries met in Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina) in November 2013 for the “International Roundtable on Water and Energy Nexus in Transboundary Basins in Southeastern Europe”. They discussed how to secure hydropower sustainability, how to map links and dependencies between water and energy in the region, how to address trade-offs between water ecosystem needs and uses including hydropower, agriculture, tourism, and how to share long-term benefits.
WWF’s international and regional water and wetland experts presented the basic principles of the “Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol”, which, together with the Danube Commission’s recent “Guiding Principles for sustainable hydropower development in the Danube Basin”, will help practitioners assess environmental, economic and energy values and the trade-offs between them. Participants tested the tools by assessing current energy, water and land use in the Sava river basin, and anticipating what will happen with more agriculture, more industry and bigger cities.

Report and photo by Tobias Salathé, Senior Regional Advisor for Europe