Implementing a Nexus Approach: Does Governance Matter?

  • 2016/06/08     Dresden, Germany

    Image: istock/baona

    Image: istock/baona

    By Atiqah Fairuz Salleh, Communications and Advocacy and Mathew Kurian, Capacity Development and Governance Unit

    The Bonn2011 Nexus Conference pointed out that integrated planning across the water-energy-food security nexus potentially unlocks significant efficiency gains. The subsequent Rio+20 Conference emphasised the importance of adopting a Nexus Approach to land, water and waste management. While there are no blueprints or panaceas to the Nexus Approach as of yet, some underlying principles guide its implementation. For the most part, in the pursuit of a systems thinking, robust analytical tools and consistent data sets across different sectors within the nexus, one link is apparently missing: a focus on the governance aspect of environmental management.

    Science-Policy Divide: Good Science Does Not Always Equate with Good Policy

    Governance approaches and perspectives have received very little attention in relation to the nexus of water, energy and food or the nexus of water, soil and waste. This is a serious shortcoming. In an attempt to address this, the UNU-FLORES 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. It examines environmental governance from three perspectives: namely, global change and the Nexus Approach, financing of infrastructure projects, and finally, strategies of implementation.

    Environmental decision making involves trade-offs at various scales be it across space, over time, vertically or horizontally. Policies on resource allocation, for instance, would need to consider competing uses of the resource among other things. Frequently, the decision-making process on these trade-offs is not based on quantitative data alone. In situations where the stakes are extremely high, the trade-offs made can be influenced by political rather than statistical significance. To strategically influence decision making, it is necessary to identify data gaps and devise data collection procedures that take both quantitative and qualitative perspectives into consideration.

    In situations where the stakes are extremely high, the trade-offs made can be influenced by political rather than statistical significance.

    Information is key. Data and data analysis are means to help define the message for decision makers who in many situations have to make political choices. For example, what strategies can we employ to highlight the public health impacts of inadequate water and waste management? What strategies can we employ to engage with decision makers at multiple levels on choices related to allocation of financial resources, soil conservation practices or water/waste management strategies?

    Fundamental to the implementation of the Nexus Approach is the need for necessary information and evidence base for stakeholders, especially decision/policymakers and practitioners. The Nexus Observatory, a flagship initiative of UNU-FLORES, aims to provide just that. To promote a Nexus Approach to the integrated management of environmental resources – water, soil, and waste – it marries research excellence with policy relevance through the consolidation, management and translation of nexus knowledge to make it useful to real world challenges. Aimed at cross-fertilisation and capacity development among others, the Nexus Observatory aspires to bridge the science-policy divide. Through instruments such as benchmarking, for example, the desired outcome of an impact monitoring framework facilitates the implementation of the Nexus Approach. Stakeholders are altogether able to make decisions that guarantee that the needs of present and future generations can be met.

    Building Nexus Competency: Online Courses

    In furtherance of the cross-fertilisation and capacity development goals, UNU-FLORES has developed three online courses on its Blended Learning Platform. Nested within the Nexus Observatory, the online courses aim to equip decision makers, practitioners and students anywhere in the world with access to relevant knowledge in addressing capacity development needs and to develop new skills on how to apply the acquired knowledge in practice. Experts from Imperial College, London, UK, Livelihoods and Natural Resources Management Institute (LNRMI), Hyderabad, India, and University of Minho, Portugal, collaborated to design the courses. In addition, regional consultations in Asia and Africa helped shape the agenda. A proposal writing workshop in Tokyo, Japan, and a regional consultation in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, helped identify the topics to be covered.

    Course title Supporting material
    Green Economy and the Life-Cycle Cost Approach Life-cycle Cost Approach for Management of Environmental Resources: A Primer (Reddy, Kurian and Ardakanian, 2015)
    Rethinking Infrastructure Design for Multi-Use Water Services Rethinking Infrastructure Design for Multi-use Water Services (Maksimovic, Kurian and Ardakanian, 2015)
    Financing Public Services and Environmental Sustainability Inter-governmental Fiscal Relations: Questions of Accountability and Autonomy (Veiga, Kurian and Ardakanian, 2015)

    In a bid to develop capacity for transdisciplinary approaches to planning and environmental management, the online courses advance the nexus concept through a focus on multiple uses, life-cycle analysis and intergovernmental fiscal relations, looking at the implementation of the Nexus Approach based on analysis undertaken in Governing the Nexus, with case studies being employed as accompanying supporting materials (see table). Over 12 weeks, participants will be exposed to policy-relevant topics and are encouraged to put on a problem-solving attitude in dealing with them.

    Based on the successful run of the first round of online courses last year, UNU-FLORES has opened the application window for the second round of online courses that will commence in September 2016.

    To sum up, while there is no doubt that the Nexus Approach offers alternative pathways for discussing integrated management challenges, the discussion has to grow beyond the biophysical domain to include the institutional domain, which has so far remained largely overlooked.


    Kurian, Mathew and Reza Ardakanian, Governing the nexus: water, soil and waste resources under conditions of global change, (Springer, 2015).