Potential and applications of the WEFE Nexus in the Western Balkans
by Amaryllis Zachariadou
#Balkans #Nexus #sustainability #environment #water #climatechange #UNECE #EIB #Drin
Water, energy, food, and ecosystems (WEFE) are at the heart of long-term social and economic stability. However, integrated management of water, energy, and land resources remain a great challenge in the Western Balkans.
A range of solutions, from infrastructure to integrated strategic planning frameworks, were examined on 26 May 2021 at the meeting on ‘Nexus Solutions and Investments in the Western Balkans,’ organized by UNECE, Global Water Partnership Mediterranean (GWP-Med), and the European Investment Bank (EIB). Although the potential for the WEFE nexus in this region is huge, the current level of implementation is still at the beginning.
What is the Water-Energy-Food Nexus approach, and why do we need it?
All over the world, the impacts of climate change aggravate natural resource scarcity and environmental exploitation. Demands for freshwater, agricultural products, and energy are rising amid rapid population growth, urbanization and intensified natural resource extraction that threatens the well-being of ecosystems.
In these unprecedented conditions, effective management of natural resources is essential in tackling the multifaceted issues at hand, calling for new solutions to help reduce negative impacts. Cross-sectoral thinking can enable practitioners, researchers, and policymakers to enrich their outlook, propel meaningful change beyond their respective disciplines, and open cross-sectoral cooperation opportunities at national and transnational levels.
To what extent are these cross-sectoral solutions implemented in the context of the Western Balkans?
Over the previous years, numerous stakeholders from various countries have studied enabling conditions for impactful Nexus investments. Specifically, concrete Nexus applications were explored in the Drin River Basin, sitting southeast of the Balkan Peninsula, and the Drina River Basin, which encircles the central part of the Dinaric mountains.
Both basins are transboundary; therefore, coordinated action is required from all riparian countries for their sustainable management. UNECE‘s opening report, ‘Solutions and investments in the water-food-energy-ecosystems Nexus: a synthesis of experiences in transboundary basins,’ established the crucial role of transboundary cooperation in the successful implementation of Nexus solutions.
Although integrated management of water, energy, and land resources remain a challenge in the region, the opportunity and potential of Nexus solutions are identified. Western Balkan countries share, among other things, sectoral and cross-cutting agendas; thus, the potential to leverage synergies across sectors is high. At the same time, the question of mobilizing funds for Nexus applications is pertinent.
Regarding financial opportunities, the most prominent one is the Sava and Drina Rivers Corridors Integrated Development Program financed by the World Bank. The program represents a financing scheme for cross-sectoral investments in the Western Balkans. The development objective of the First Phase of the Sava and Drina Rivers Corridors Integrated Development Program Project for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia is to improve flood protection and enhance transboundary water cooperation in the Sava and Drina rivers corridors
Furthermore, the EIB facilitated a series of interventions from international organizations on strategic agendas for sustainable development. Besides, The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), the EU Danube Strategy, and the Water Agenda of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) are important stakeholders in assessing the questions of banking and implementation of Nexus projects, as well as in defining the role of public authorities/funds, private sector, international donors, and international financial institutions in mobilizing Nexus project funding.
Recognizing Nexus potential
The essence of the Nexus approach lies in understanding the interconnectedness between food and energy production, water, and ecosystems. The benefits of coordinated action can extend further than water, energy, and food security, contributing to the transition to a green economy and achieving SDGs.
In the Western Balkan context, the potential of applying Nexus solutions in transboundary River Basins is recognized and is gradually supported with strategic decisions. International agencies’ and donors’ support is crucial; still, the political will and decisions lie at each country’s discretion. The potential opportunities for cross-sectoral action include a participatory process for joint identification of issues, sediment and erosion control, renewable energy integration, agricultural policy, and information and data management for planning and forecasting. Overall, the need for financing the Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystems Nexus projects in the Western Balkans must be scaled up to tackle region-wide issues such as decarbonization and environmental degradation.
The transition to a more sustainable and integrated resource management that respects the specific interlinkages and interdependencies of individual sectors and regions is key in making the WEF Nexus thinking a reality in the Western Balkans.
The NEXUSNET CA20138 Network on the water-energy-food nexus for a low-carbon economy in Europe and beyond can play a key role in these activities over the next period. This Cost Action is bringing together a wide range of participants from the region, including stakeholders from academia, the business sector, and governmental agents, to empower collaborations between the European Union, international researchers, and other stakeholders.
COST’s interdisciplinary bottom-up networks can help bridge the innovation divide and provide a large spectrum of opportunities for young generations of researchers and innovators. In the Western Balkans context, the NEXUSNET can support attempts to synthesize the existing empirical Nexus research and define a concerted research agenda that promotes an integrated approach to improved resource management and governance outcomes that underlie the value of nexus. Stakeholders from the Western Balkans could benefit from the NEXUSNET community through knowledge sharing, dissemination actions, and the transfer of best practices.