A Nexus Approach towards the SDGs

  • 2017/09/26     Dresden, Germany

    By Atiqah Fairuz Salleh, Communications and Advocacy

    25 September 2017 marks the two-year anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by 193 countries. Although each of the 17 goals has its specific targets, achieving any single SDG is inherently interlinked with the success of other SDGs.

    Through our projects that advance an integrated approach to the sustainable management of environmental resources, UNU-FLORES strives to similarly tackle the SDGs from a nexus perspective.

    In 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in order to end poverty, ensure prosperity for all, and protect the planet. As part of the United Nations system, UNU-FLORES works steadfastly to contribute towards sustainable development and thereby the SDGs.


    Knowing the interconnectedness of issues related to water (SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation), food security (SDG 2: Zero hunger), and energy (SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy), for instance, is essential to manage environmental resources in an integrated way. Taking into account the interdependencies and interrelatedness of environmental resources, UNU-FLORES develops strategies that are efficient and cost-effective for achieving the SDGs via the Nexus Approach.

    Image: istockphoto/Todd Arbini

    The book “Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture”, a result of joint efforts from researchers with different backgrounds, aims to increase our knowledge on wastewater management for the production of food. Through 17 case studies from around the world, it helps us think about ways of securing the availability of food (SDG 2), while ensuring health (SDG 3: Good health and well-being) and a desired level of water quality and sanitation (SDG 6). Moreover, with water from the surface seeping through the soil, land can also in turn become degraded (SDG 15: Life on land) if the water is contaminated.

    Image: istockphoto/Veronica Bogaerts

    UNU-FLORES researchers also capture the relevance of the Nexus Approach for sustainable development through the concept of constructed wetlands. As a low-technology alternative to treat wastewater (SDG 6), wetland plants provide energy (SDG 7) by capturing nutrients that would otherwise be released into surface water or groundwater and are instead used in agricultural lands as fertilisers.

    Image: UNU-FLORES/Ana Andreu Mendez

    In UNU-FLORES’s project under the TIGER initiative, with the use of Earth Observation (EO) data and technologies, remote sensing maps water use (SDG 6) and helps prevent water scarcity in African savannas. By improving our understanding of water use and water stress evolution over a key multifunctional African ecosystem, remote sensing allows us to monitor climate change (SDG 13: Climate action) and altogether anticipate potential disasters.

    Image: istockphoto/bizoo_n

    In order to ensure informed decision-making at the policy level, the governance perspective is critical. At the heart of the Wastewater Reuse Effectiveness Index (WREI) is the focus on wastewater use in SDG 6 and in particular target 6.3. By strengthening monitoring frameworks, this tool facilitates governance processes by making scientific results become useful for policymaking.

    Image: UNU-FLORES/Lulu Zhang

    Most recently, UNU-FLORES took part in the Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD (COP13), where world leaders discussed efforts to reverse land degradation in dryland ecosystems. Focussing on the rehabilitation of the land (SDG 15) in China, our researchers highlighted the importance of a Nexus Approach in afforestation programmes to address land-based adaptation measures.

    Image: Jan Rieger

    At the 2017 Dresden Nexus Conference, monitoring and implementation of the SDGs and the Nexus Approach was the focus of discussion among over 400 participants. Researchers, practitioners, and decision makers from around the world saw this major event as an opportunity to advance the sustainable development agenda and thereby contribute towards achieving the SDGs.

    The adoption of the SDGs was an unprecedented milestone for the international community as a whole, and in particular for the United Nations. It is a one-of-a-kind agenda for eradicating poverty and ending hunger. One of the aspects of the SDGs that make it so unique which does not receive as much attention is the integrated nature of the 2030 Development Agenda. By advancing a Nexus Approach to the sustainable management of environmental resources with projects such as these, at UNU-FLORES we strive to help increase awareness of this integrated nature and of the potential it poses. Working together with an impressive network of partners, we are continuously identifying robust strategies and tools for sharing these.