Implementing a Nexus Approach to Sustainable Development in Urban Areas
By Felix Dodds
This April, the second Nexus Conference will focus on the links and trade-offs between water, energy, and food – the “nexus” – in urban areas. Cities are at the forefront of the climate challenge and the heart of the global economy, so they are critical to implementing an integrated approach to meeting the SDGs and building climate resilience.
On April 16-18, the second Nexus Conference will convene governments, intergovernmental organizations, and stakeholders at the University of North Carolina. The conference will focus on the links and trade-offs between water, energy, and food—often called the nexus—as viewed through an urban lens. Cities are at the forefront of the climate challenge and the heart of the global economy, so they are critical to implementing an integrated approach to meeting the SDGs and building resilience to climate change.
Cities Are Key to Meeting the SDGs
The SDGs recognize that the world is a single complex system in which all the parts and subsystems constantly interact. Solutions to global problems like poverty should consider the leverages, synergies, and trade-offs within the system. These solutions are often best implemented at the local or sub-national level, including within cities and other urban areas.
Cities are critical to achieving the SDGs; most of the 169 SDG targets can only be met through sustainable innovation by local actors, including local communities and local authorities. But the role of cities and other urban areas in implementing the SDGs needs to be more widely recognized.
Cities are the world’s economic centres and account for 75 percent of global GDP. Urban areas are also at the forefront of the climate challenge; they consume 78 percent of the world’s energy and produce 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.
To build sustainable cities and communities, we must safeguard people’s health. As cities continue to grow in importance, so will the need to construct urban environments that are not only sustainable, but also ensure the health and wellbeing of their inhabitants. Incorporating a health focus in the food-water-energy nexus will reduce health burdens and spiralling healthcare costs, and enable us to achieve universal health care. The challenge will always be to get the politician buy in from politicians for recognising these interlinkages. Building a Nexus community will help that as will an engaged stakeholder approach at the local and subnational level.
Urban areas draw much from their rural areas – their water, their food and at times their energy. The interconnections between rural and urban areas should be addressed through a nexus approach. Building partnerships can enhance rural-urban linkages and are an effective way to foster economic development and environmental sustainability.
Cities Need Integrated Resilience Policies
City governments need to develop resilience policies that take account of the relationships between food, water, and energy, as well as build capacities to absorb future shocks and stresses to their social, economic, and technical systems and infrastructures.
Policy coherence between levels (e.g., from the national to subnational to local) and among agencies (e.g., water, energy, and agriculture ministries) will be vital. We need new forms of governance that involve all relevant stakeholders in addressing these interlinkages.
Possible approaches include:
- Mandatory multi-agency task forces or collaborative work groups at the local and subnational levels focused on policy coherence;
- National and subnational government participation in management platforms for watersheds or integrated landscapes;
- Outcome-based regulatory policies that facilitate an engaged stakeholder community in the development of that policy.
The challenge of addressing the nexus requires building the capacity of sub-national and local governments and stakeholders, through methods like sharing toolkits and best practices. However, most city officials do not have sufficient training in using integrated management to address nexus issues. Managers need skills in systems thinking, communicating across sectoral and cultural differences, and collaborative leadership.
In November 2017, the credit rating Agency Moody’s announced that they will weigh the impact of climate risks on U.S. states and municipalities, and their preparedness and planning for these impacts, when it issues credit ratings. Ratings analysts for municipalities with higher exposure to climate risks will also consider how current and future mitigation steps may impact the issuer’s overall profile. Other countries, local, and subnational governments and other credit rating agencies should consider similar measures.
SDG Indicators Should Be Integrated
Currently, countries measure their progress towards meeting the 17 SDGs using 232 global indicators. National, sub-national, and local governments and stakeholders are encouraged to develop additional indicators through consultations with their citizens. In particular, they are encouraged to pilot indicators that address the interlinkages between goals and targets. Around the follow up to Agenda 21 in 1992, there was a lot of initial work on sustainability indicators by local authorities which should be built on. We hope this conference will inspire more work in this area which can be shared among the local and sub-national community.
An integrated approach is vital to the implementation of the goals and targets of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. Creating local and subnational governance structures and processes that promote an integrated approach to the SDGs will be critical. Building the capacity to successfully use such governance structures and processes is a key part of the effort.
At this year’s Nexus Conference, we will examine these needs and identify ways to meet them. The outcomes of the conference will feed into the 2018 Ministerial Declaration for the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which this year will address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on water, energy, cities, consumption, ecosystems, and partnerships. We hope you’ll join us.