The Nexus and International Relations: The Case of Hydropower Projects

  • 2022/05/06     Dresden, Germany

    Image: Getnet tesfamaria/iStock

    By Saray Quirant-Perez

    Prof. Raimund Bleischwitz, Dr Ana Elisa Cascão, Dr Ines Dombrowsky, and Dr Claudia Ringler illustrated the interlinkages between the nexus and transboundary governance in order to overcome barriers to collaboration that arise from hydropower projects.

    The Nexus Seminar No. 58 titled “The Nexus and International Relations: The Case of Hydropower Projects and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” took place on 17 January 2022.

    Prof. Raimund Bleischwitz (UNU-FLORES) started by presenting a recent article on the “Implications of the Resource Nexus on International Relations: The Case of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam”. There has not been much research on the transboundary dimension of the nexus, which is usually applied to regional and local scales. Therefore, there is a need to analyse international hydropower issues from a transboundary Resource Nexus approach.

    After addressing the main theories of international relations – realist, liberalist, and constructivist – the case study of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was highlighted. Adopting a nexus perspective can bring potential advantages to the current situation, where tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia are intensifying. The suggested perspective on this issue is to apply a nexus perspective that goes beyond the focus on water, with a focus on delivering the SDGs on water, energy, and food in an integrated manner.

    Strengthening Ethiopia’s energy angle is also key, as well as integrating nexus technologies such as agrovoltaics, solar-powered irrigation, and agro-forestry. Ethiopia’s capability to increase energy services could facilitate an interest to slow down the filling of the GERD. Egypt can bring its energy and agriculture capabilities to the table, for instance, around the Benban Solar Park. In the long term, international collaboration on water, electricity, and food could emerge.

    Independent Consultant Dr Ana Elisa Cascão, who focuses on the geopolitics of dam coordination in transboundary river basins, highlighted the cases of the two most dangerous dams in the world – the Kariba Dam and the Mosul Dam – that share the same central issues as the GERD. They are extremely complex basins because they have multiple dams in the same river. Special attention is given to the climate and storage nexus. As both floods and droughts are impactful for all infrastructures, there is a need to consider climate scenarios in legal and institutional negotiations. The size of the reservoir is also very critical and agreements on the filling and long-term operations of the dam are needed, considering the benefits of irrigation and hydropower.

    In the case of the Nile Basin, there is no legal basin-wide agreement adopted, only a multilateral technical cooperation under the Nile Basin Initiative. Therefore, coordination and cooperation are still limited and extremely complex. In addition, geopolitical and political dimensions cannot be ignored when applying a nexus approach, since they are the main obstacles for cooperation.

    Dr Ines Dombrowsky (German Development Institute) addressed the role of regional organisations in governing the WEF Nexus in relation to hydropower on international rivers. Hydropower on shared rivers can hugely impact the provision of water, energy, and food security across borders. Coordination on transboundary rivers relies on voluntary negotiations, but river basin organisations can facilitate a nexus governance approach.

    Based on her analysis of three case studies, the Rusumo Falls Hydropower project, the Ruzizi III Hydropower project, and the Xayaburi Dam, Dr Dombrowsky concluded that regional organisations can foster transboundary nexus governance by supporting benefit-sharing arrangements, ensuring the application of safeguards, and fostering the application of the principles of international water law. However, the Xayaburi case also points to their limits, since new private investors and donors can change the power dynamics despite the existence of an international river basin organization (IRBO).

    The study also shows that under certain conditions self-interested actors might derive benefits from coordination and from governing WEF Nexus impacts and that this might be promoted by coordinating agencies and procedural instruments.

    Finally, Dr Claudia Ringler (International Food Policy Research Institute) reinforced the points made by previous speakers by talking about the “Water-Energy-Food-Environment Nexus in Transboundary River Basins”. She stated that transboundary consultations at various levels and analyses are equally important to achieve the potential of transboundary hydropower development. Moreover, transboundary institutions such as regional basin organisations provide space to develop trust and collaborations, as well as to be an analytical home for transboundary nexus analyses.

    Going forward, climate change is accelerating the need for a nexus approach, which can support the achievement of broader, heterogenous goals of basin interventions, and reduce conflicts. Dr Ringler also highlighted the importance of looking at the associated economic benefits and costs of cooperation as a tool for increasing joint action.

    Further Reading

    Bleischwitz, Raimund, Sabrina Kirschke, and Nora Adam. 2021. “Implications of the Resource Nexus on International Relations: The Case of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.” Zeitschrift für Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik 14(4): 397–409.

    Dombrowsky, Ines, and Oliver Hensengerth. 2018. “Governing the Water-Energy-Food Nexus Related to Hydropower on Shared Rivers—The Role of Regional Organizations.” Frontiers in Environmental Science 6.