Research Key in Unlocking Practical Solutions for a Sustainable Future: Visiting Scholar

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  • 2016/05/13     Dresden, Germany

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    A brief interview with our visiting scholar, Mr. Oluwabamise Lanre Afolabi, on what research on the water-energy nexus means for a sustainable future.

    Mr. Oluwabamise Lanre Afolabi is a recipient of the International Climate Protection Fellowship awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. His research project revolves around climate change adaptation in the River Niger Basin of sub-Saharan Africa (Nigerian part) using a water-energy nexus approach. UNU-FLORES is hosting Mr. Afolabi during his research under the fellowship. Mr. Afolabi is currently on a research leave from his position with the National Integrated Power Project at Niger Delta Power Holding Company Ltd in Nigeria, where he was born. Mr. Afolabi holds a Master’s degree in energy and the environment from Lancaster University, United Kingdom, and a Bachelor’s degree in environmental management and toxicology from the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Nigeria.

    Interview by Atiqah Fairuz Salleh, Communications and Advocacy

    What triggered you to embark on a career in the water and energy sector?

    As an undergraduate back home, I was exposed to a range of environmental issues as part of my degree programme. What struck me most was that a lot of environmental problems in our world today find either a direct or indirect relation to energy issues. At this point, I became sure this was a link that I wanted to further explore and investigate. Through my studies, work experience and in particular, my research experience as a Graduate Consultant with an environmental consulting firm in Manchester, United Kingdom, I have since curated a special research interest in energy systems (renewable and non-renewable), climate change (modelling, mitigation and adaptation), scenario planning, the water-energy nexus, and other related energy and environment issues. I believe that in order to tackle some of the world’s environmental problems, especially those that have to do with water, a basic necessity of life, it is pertinent to understand its interrelationship with the very thing that powers life – that is energy.

    How does a stint at UNU-FLORES add value to your research work?

    Focusing my work on the water-energy nexus, I find no better place to conduct my research than at an institute whose work is in advancing the very Nexus Approach. At UNU-FLORES the basic framework is in place within which the inter-relatedness of resources management issues is recognised and is at the core of our work. In my research project, I am looking at adapting the electricity supply sector to climate change impacts because the sector is vulnerable to changes in hydro-climatic conditions. The impacts of climate change on various resources like water and energy need to be studied not in isolation – we have to recognise the symbiotic relationships between them to better manage them. At UNU-FLORES I get to network and exchange ideas with colleagues who are experts in various areas of resources management while maintaining the emphasis on a nexus-oriented approach.

    On a different level, another nexus that I find equally if not more important is that between science and policy. Just as it is important to look at the nexus between resources to better manage them, we have to admit that we also have to strive to narrow the divide between technical know-how and political will. Other than impacts on the environment, climate change also has societal impacts and adaptation to climate change and the mitigation of its negative impacts require the joint input of both researchers and decision makers. In the River Niger Basin that geographically cuts across nine countries, the intersections in managing the problem go beyond the water-energy nexus but also the science-policy nexus.

    As an environmental professional for a national energy project in Nigeria, you are also at the forefront of implementing practical solutions. How does research feed into practical problem-solving of environmental challenges?

    I whole-heartedly believe that research goes hand-in-hand with the practical implementation of measures. Research is done based on real life situations and there is the need to rely on scientific tools such as models to help inform decision making in the energy sector. In the course of completing research studies, we do not just pre-empt outcomes but we seek to understand the factors at play, the interaction between different resources and how they are affected by different conditions. This also involves drawing up scenarios to circumvent the uncertainties associated with understanding future impacts and engaging relevant stakeholders in the sector accordingly.

    What is the one thing you think is necessary for a sustainable future?

    It is necessary to consider energy development and use in all our efforts towards attaining a sustainable future. When we think of water as a resource, it is difficult to ignore the role of water in energy production. As we move from the era of wood to coal and then oil and gas and even as we transit into the age of renewables, the energy industry continues to be very water-intensive and to ignore energy issues when dealing with water management would be a costly mistake.