Advancing Modelling Tools to Operationalise Nexus Approach for SDGs

  • 2016/12/28     Kassel, Germany


    Reporting by Atiqah Fairuz Salleh, Communications and Advocacy

    The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development consists of 17 goals and 169 associated targets. The integrated and indivisible nature of these goals illustrates that resources supporting development are finite while demands continue to increase.

    Yet a common critique of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is that not enough emphasis is placed on their interconnectedness. Through the Nexus Approach, environmental resources are managed with close examination of their interrelatedness and interdependencies. The consideration of the functioning, productivity, and management of a complex system necessitates a systems analysis, and models facilitate such processes.

    “The Nexus Approach to environmental resources’ management examines the interrelatedness and interdependencies of environmental resources and their transitions and fluxes across spatial scales and between compartments. Instead of just looking at individual components, the functioning, productivity and management of a complex system is taken into consideration.”

    On invitation, Academic Officer Stephan Hülsmann, who leads the Systems and Flux Analysis Considering Global Change Assessment unit at UNU-FLORES, gave a presentation on “A Nexus Perspective on SDGs: The Importance of Modelling Tools” at a workshop organised by the Center for Environmental Systems Research (CESR). He explained how models serve as tools for systems analysis. They formalise complex relations so that we are able to analyse systems behaviour, emergent properties/phenomena, and feedback loops. The extrapolation of data allows for up- or downscaling and uncertainty analysis. The information and wisdom derived from models support decision-making through, for example, scenario analysis.

    All this is relevant in order to map the nexus system. By clarifying whole system goals and quantifying system linkages, we are able to identify critical linkages and feedbacks (see also Lecture Series 2). Subsequently, we can identify policy actions that achieve whole system goals. This concept is applicable be it in the context of achieving the SDGs or in examining the interconnectedness of environmental resources (water-soil-waste nexus).

    AdBanner300x109px_NexusObservatoryWhile there is no single best solution of nexus modelling, a first step is a systematic mapping of existing tools and models. Hülsmann introduced the Nexus Tools Platform (NTP), an interactive comparison of nexus modelling tools. Part of UNU-FLORES’s Nexus Observatory, NTP is a web platform offering graphical visualisations of database content. An advanced and graph-based filtering and full-text search function allows for the most suitable modelling tool(s) to be selected. A community- and developer-driven platform, NTP is accessible for free without installation.

    At the moment, NTP includes 73 models covering a wide range of potential applications and processes related to water, soil, and waste. The platform is currently prepared for a major update and relaunch, adding more models and new functionalities. On the whole, there is an increasing need for integrated environmental models and coupling of models and this will be reflected more prominently in the updated version of NTP.

    The CESR workshop “A Systems Approach to Sustainable Development Goals” demonstrates the importance of systemic consideration of SDGs. Such an exploration analyses the potential of individual SDGs, as well as their effects and target conflicts. Participants and invited experts discussed how system science can contribute to the integrative implementation of the SDGs. Hülsmann’s presentation generated much interest in the NTP and received constructive comments and feedback on new features and future development options.

    Further Reading

    Mannschatz, Theresa, Tobias Wolf, and Stephan Hülsmann. 2016. “Nexus Tools Platform: Web-based comparison of modelling tools for analysis of Water-Soil-Waste Nexus.” In Environmental Modelling & Software 76: 137–153. doi: 10.1016/j.envsoft.2015.10.031.