A Transdisciplinary Approach Inherent in Nexus Policymaking

News
  • 2017/10/06     Dresden, Germany

    Reporting by Camille Le Ho, Intern, Communications & Advocacy Unit

    We often talk about the science-policy divide but only skirt around transdisciplinarity-related problems. In a bid to mitigate climate change impacts in an effective way, a transdisciplinary approach is increasingly inevitable due to interlinkages between resources (water, soil, waste, and energy), and between resources and society.

    This important subject was raised at Nexus Seminar No. 23 entitled “Revisiting Watershed Management: A Water-Energy-Food Nexus Perspective on the Challenge of Eutrophication” delivered by Prof. Vippala Ratna Reddy during his stint as a visiting scholar at UNU-FLORES. In his presentation, Prof. Vippala addressed in particular the process of eutrophication, by which damaging quantities of nutrients accumulate in water bodies, a process that is aggravated by climate change and human activities. The Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow highlighted the importance of addressing this issue through a transdisciplinary approach – which is at the heart of the Nexus Approach – in order to arrive at more sustainable policies.

    Presenting a paper that he developed with UNU-FLORES researcher Mathew Kurian during his research visit, Prof. Vippala located his work on eutrophication within a nexus framework. To do this, he placed emphasis on the value of having researchers from different disciplines work together towards addressing environmental concerns. It can be a strenuous exercise because some aspects of the subject are sometimes totally unknown and/or inaccessible to some researchers. In addition to having different knowledge backgrounds, scientists often see a subject matter from their specific points of view. Coming together implies having a clear overview of expertise from different fields in a simple manner.

    An economist himself, Prof. Vippala spoke from his own experience in India and at UNU-FLORES, about the obstacles that transdisciplinarity poses but also the challenges it helps overcome. To deal with differences in opinions, he offered the room full of future scientists useful recommendations on ways to effectively work towards a common goal.

    “Achieving a transdisciplinary approach requires working as a team, to continuously ask questions about each other’s expectations and to learn about each other’s needs.”

    – Prof. Vippala, Visiting Scholar with the Capacity Development and Governance Unit
    at UNU-FLORES

    Prof. Vippala, who is also Director of the Livelihoods and Natural Resource Management Institute in Hyderabad, India, illustrated his point using a personal example. To address the challenge of eutrophication, he and his colleagues in hydrogeology, crops science, and socioeconomics joined forces to work towards a common goal, which is to limit the infiltration of polluted groundwater into land. Without knowledge on water or soil quality, farmers would continue using nutrients at an increasing rate, resulting in a vicious cycle of eutrophication (see diagram). Eutrophication tends to increasingly intensify due to groundwater irrigation where one degraded resource (water) feeds into another (land).

    However, addressing this issue with a view of the synergies from the different scientific expertise can conversely help improve food and water security. Drawing on the Nexus Approach, Prof. Vippala illustrated how eutrophication is very much linked to the water-energy-food nexus with well-defined trade-offs and threshold levels. Weighing out all available options, a change in land use or method of irrigation would result in a more optimal outcome: food security maintained at lower levels of inputs or higher level of food security at the same level of inputs. This ensures sustainability of resources through improved soil and water quality and subsequently improved quality of food.

    Ratna, Reddy, and Mathew Kurian. 2017. “Revisiting Watershed Management: A Water-Energy-Food Nexus Perspective on the Challenge of Eutrophication”, Paper Presented at the Nexus Seminar No. 23, UNU- FLORES, Dresden, Germany, 11th September.

    The afternoon lecture rounded off with a lively Q&A discussion, during which there was an agreement between the visiting scholar and the audience on the importance of a transdisciplinary approach to make scientific results become useful for policymaking. The need for necessary information and evidence base for stakeholders, especially decision makers is fundamental to the implementation of the Nexus Approach.

    UNU-FLORES book publication Governing the Nexus: Water, Soil and Waste Resources Considering Global Change (Springer 2015) provides a framework for discussing key science-policy challenges confronting decision makers globally. Prof. Vippala co-authored the chapter on “Life-Cycle Cost Analysis of Infrastructure Projects”.

    This Nexus Seminar is part of the joint seminar series of UNU-FLORES and TU Dresden, delivering thought-provoking lectures and stimulating discussions on the Nexus Approach to environmental resources management. The next Nexus Seminar will take place on 23 October in TU Dresden. All are welcome to attend.