At Bonn 2011 (November 16-18), there was a lot of new vocabulary on display, as well as some genuinely new thinking – and a great deal of energy! Some strong messages will be taken through to the Rio+20 conference, articulated in the opening plenary of the conference by Sha Zukang, Secretary-General for Rio+20, and Under Secretary-General of the UN for Economic and Social Affairs. He emphasized that the Rio conference will be about integration, about policy coherence, and about implementation.
At the closing of the conference, the representative of the Brazilian government, Volney Zavardi, also stressed that sustainable development must be co-ordinated in an integrated way, and that all countries must benefit from the agreement in Rio. The main goal will be to accelerate access to water, food and energy for those at the “bottom of the pyramid”. Hence the concept of the Water-Energy-Food Security Nexus is aligned with the aspirations of the Rio+20 conference. He reminded the audience that despite the global financial crisis, there should not be a “recession” of political will. He criticized the current institutional framework for sustainable development as poor and ineffective; he identified the overlapping and duplication taking place within the UN system, and pledged that Rio would find a new model for engagement with civil society. Above all, he said, the green economy must be inclusive, and we all need to contribute to building an adequate institutional framework for truly sustainable development.
It’s about integration: the audience on the opening day were addressed as “integrated thinkers” by Johan Rockström of SEI, who demonstrated the urgency of taking an integrated approach because of the planetary boundaries which are already being breached. The current geological era has been termed the “anthropocene” – humans are overwhelming the great forces of nature, and themselves becoming a geological force.
At the same time the human challenges are huge: more than 1 billion people are hungry, just under 1 billion still do not have access to clean water, 2.6 billion have no secure access to sanitation, and 1.5 billion do not have access to a sustainable energy source. The Water-Food-Energy nexus is an integrated reality which plays itself out in the lives of poor people – and the nexus approach needs to focus on the needs of the poor.
At the policy level, the message of integration needs to resonate with decision-makers. Securing energy for governments make this an essential avenue for international negotiations. The food price shocks of the last two years has put food security at the top of the agenda for many countries. Yet energy security and food security will continue to be elusive without an integrated focus on the water resources which support them.
It’s about policy coherence: Competition over scarce land and water resources is placing constraints on economic development in many areas, especially in densely-populated Asian countries. However, as one of the speakers put it, we are in a “trilemma”: it is difficult for any person working in one of the sectors to understand the complexity in the others – this hampers policy development and implementation across the Water-Energy-Food nexus partly because of the lack of the right vocabulary. How to make progress at this point?
Al Duda of the GEF advocates building capacity and trust by involving ministries and stakeholders in a diagnostic analysis which looks at the complex issues and breaks them down into understandable components. This needs to be followed by a visioning process which produces a strategic action programme of commitments, developing new policies and establishing adaptive management through existing institutions. GEF has a great deal of experience in making Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) operational in hydrological units. The nexus is IWRM that needs to be applied on a hydrological unit basis, drawing in the other sectors. He pointed out that 80% of countries are now making some headway in IWRM, it’s not time to change direction because things are too complex, it’s time to press on with cross-sectoral action.
It’s about implementation: there is now a call to convert the MDGs after 2015 to long-term Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including energy access for all, access to water supply and sanitation security for all, food security for all. But how on earth can these goals be achieved within the world system’s constraints? Some foresee a leveling off of economic growth in developed countries, increasing growth in the poorest countries, and managing continued growth in the middle-income countries. However, the key is to decouple economic growth from resource consumption. We have plenty of evidence that Europe’s economic growth has continued over the last twenty years despite a decrease in total water withdrawals over that time. There needs to be smart investment and knowledge-intensive innovation worldwide, finding new solutions. We need more crop and kilowatt per drop!
Both new and existing plans and commitments to integrated approaches need to be funded and implemented. GWP’s Chair, Letitia A. Obeng, will be taking forward the outcomes of the Bonn conference as an official “Outcomes Ambassador”. She reminded the audience in the closing plenary that the IWRM status report which is being prepared for Rio+20 (to be published in February 2012) shows that while 80% of countries have made some progress towards integrated approaches, two-thirds of countries have prepared IWRM plans, while one-third are implementing them strongly. We must ensure that these integrated approaches continue to be implemented. The representative from the US State Department, Ertharin Cousin, put it like this: what is needed is to incentivize integrated management, in order to get action for change.
Overall the Bonn 2011 conference has shown that in order to support our population of 7 billion and rising, a planetary transformation is needed. It is time not for incremental changes, but for a major shift in the global economy. The German government wants to see a social compact for global change coming out of Rio+20. The bold words and bold vision set out at Bonn 2011 must now be matched by bold actions on the part of all stakeholders in the process.