The Realization of the Energy-Water Nexus

The Realization of the Energy-Water Nexus

Water is the most frequently cited sector in all of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the adaptation chapter, and energy is a critical means through which we can reach the Paris goals. However, the true scope of these issues extends beyond simply their interactions within the Paris agreement.

The saying “one only understands the value of water when the well is dry” is the perfect depiction of the situation facing many of us in terms of water. Speakers on Water Action Day at COP23 noted that, “around 40 percent of the world’s population will face water shortages by 2050, accelerating migration and triggering conflict, while some regions could lose up to six percent of their economic output, unless water is better managed.” A side panel at COP23 stated a similar occurrence in regard to energy highlighting how access to reliable, clean and affordable energy is a necessary condition to reduce poverty and to support human development.

These impacts are not as thoroughly researched and understood as other impacts from climate change, and certain regions of the world that feel these types of issues won’t affect them may tend to disregard their importance. But the facts are that over 1 billion people lack access to electricity, about 850 million live without access to safe water, and another 800 million are undernourished.

It is only once water and energy resources are in a state of emergency that the world may be truly awakened to the extent of these issues, and that’s what makes the collaboration between energy and water so important.

“There is an urgent need to develop and enhance capacity and partnerships in relation to understanding three underpinning elements of a sustainable society: food, energy and water security.”  -Simon Langan, Director of the Water Future and Solutions Initiative at International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

If we are able to develop these partnerships now through integrated approaches, a variety of tools and sustainable methodologies, we will create a more resilient future for the world, not only in terms of climate change but also other related factors such as poverty, human development, and hunger.

These initiatives are addressed in an interrelated manner because tackling one sector, indirectly and sometimes directly, impacts aspects of the other sectors. This is especially seen with the interdependent nature of energy, water and agricultural resources:

“The production of food and energy are both highly dependent on the access to water and may compete for this resource, water supply and agriculture are major users of energy. Energy system and land-use change are the biggest emitters of GHGs. There is thus a high likelihood that pursuit of policy goals in one area could have impacts on other areas.” -IAEA

Initiatives that address the interconnectedness of these topics make it easier to find solutions for the others. This was seen with a number of the outcomes of COP23, especially solutions such as the nature-based solutions for water management, which form a crucial part of the “toolbox” for addressing climate change through conservation and sustainable management of ecosystems, as discussed at International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s COP23 event: Nature-based Solutions for a Climate Resilient Europe.

“Healthy, well-functioning ecosystems improve the resilience of nature and society and often have a high return on investment rate.” -IUCN

The Global Water Partnership (GWP) described water as a connector, an enabling resource for sustainable development. They state that water-intensive investments should assess and reduce climate risk even if they are not “water sector” projects. This similar result is seen with a number of other integrated solutions and methodologies.

Among the tools developed by the IAEA and other UN organizations, the Climate, Land, Energy and Water (CLEW), methodology helps countries analyze complex interactions between these key resources, together with climate change. The methodology supports policy and planning for sustainable development.

When all of these solutions, partnerships and tools are considered together, the picture that emerges is promising for the future of the energy-water nexus. We must work together in an innovative and optimistic manner. Maybe we won’t have to learn what happens when the well runs dry after all.


The Energy-Water Nexus Outcome @COP23

COP23 raised thoughtful and innovative discussions surrounding the many issues of the energy-water nexus. While there were few large decisions or policies made addressing energy and water, there were several important outcomes that will be key in reaching the goals set for these resources and responding to related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

  1. Nature-Based Solutions for Water

SDG 6 relates to water being more of a local issue but stresses that the consequences how water is managed have global impact  The need for an equally global solution was emphasized by the launch of a plan that will integrate nature-based solutions into water management strategies worldwide:

The declaration defines nature-based solutions as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.”

  1. Water Financing

Prime Minister of Fiji Accepting Aid from the EIB

SDG 6 addresses water and sanitation, prioritized in many countries’ climate action plans submitted under the Paris Agreement. However, water agencies at COP23 estimated that $295 billion (USD) would be needed for countries to fully develop water management strategies and take action as part of adaptation to climate change—a number that is three times the levels of investment prior to COP23.

In other progress, Fiji received the largest European Investment Bank grant for water management ever received by a small island state:

  • The EIB pledged $75 million (USD) toward a $405 million Fiji investment program to strengthen resilience of water distribution and wastewater treatment following Cyclone Winston.

While there was not much progress toward acquiring finance on this large scale, there was a call “for the sustainable use of water to be at the center of building resilient cities and human settlements and ensuring food security in a climate change context.”      – Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President, Women for Water Partnership

    1. Energy Financing- 

SDG 7 addresses the use of affordable renewable and clean energy, which is continuing to grow with investments in renewables outweighing investments in fossil fuels, especially in developing countries. Finance is a major force to accelerate the global energy transition:

It will “provide cutting-edge technical support to governments whose energy policies will significantly impact the speed of a global transition toward more sustainable energy production and use, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and greater access to energy.” -IEA

Many other outcomes that emerged from COP23 relate to or are reliant on proper management of energy and water resources. One such event was the launch of the global Powering Past Coal Allianceformed to declare a phase-out of coal—led by the UK and Canada, and joined by more than 20 countries and other groups. Unfortunately, emissions rose this year after holding steady for three years, due to increased use of fossil fuels.

“Ending, or at least sharply reducing, the use of coal continues to be a major objective for many NGOs, and many governments as well.” -SDG 7

28 July 2017, Nepal- Village of Bhagawoti Kauledhara. Farmers’ Field School female members working in the fields trying new agricultural techniques.

As agriculture is closely tied to the energy-water nexus, another noteworthy outcome was the parties’ agreement to address issues of agriculture and climate change, which marked the “end of a deadlock on agriculture which had lasted for years.”

  • Leaders agreed that investing more in agricultural climate action and supporting sustainable livelihoods of small-scale farmers will unlock much greater potential to limit emissions and protect people against climate change.
  • The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a new Sourcebook on Climate-Smart Agriculture with guidelines to scale up public and private climate financing for agriculture, encourage partnerships, and build capacity.

“Countries now have the opportunity to transform their agricultural sectors to achieve food security for all through sustainable agriculture and strategies that boost resource-use efficiency, conserve and restore biodiversity and natural resources, and combat the impacts of climate change.”     -René Castro, Assistant-Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Overall, COP23 was quite focused on setting the stage for COP24, which will hopefully see adoption of the Paris Rulebook. Great strides were achieved for the issues of the energy-water nexus and how they relate to climate change. Not only were these issues brought up more frequently in discussions across the COP, but also steps are being taken to integrate concepts and promote collaboration on these issues across many organizations, countries, and disciplines.


Going With the Flow (of Water) @COP23


COP23 marked the second Water Action Day held at a UN climate change conference, the first occurring last year in Marrakesh. This thematic day sponsored as part of the Global Climate Action (GCA) Initiative brought together approximately 33 water agencies and other interested individuals and corporations to discuss the use of water as it relates to climate change and the strategies needed to promote better water management.

The GCA describes Water Action Day’s goal is “to build on our achievements in mainstreaming water into the global climate action agenda, enabling climate and water actors and their allies to learn from one another and engage as full partners in achieving a sustainable and resilient climate future for all people.”

In the GCA Media Briefing on Energy, Water and Agriculture, Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President of Women for Water, World Water Council Member and spokesperson for the #ClimateIsWater Initiative, discussed how the infrastructure for clean drinking water access is difficult to achieve. This central theme was reflected throughout the conference, and contributed to one of the main focuses of Water Action Day revolving around water finance and how to build a sustainable system for water to prevent shortages in the coming years.

She also discussed how, unlike energy, water technology is not often seen as an investment, and how this perspective must change for sustainable water initiatives to progress.

GCA Media Briefing Panel on Energy, Water and Agriculture

Delia Paul, Thematic Expert for Poverty Reduction, Rights and Governance (Malaysia/Australia), discussed how many speakers throughout the day mentioned that their countries consider water an important part of their climate action plan, but they have yet to make the jump to financing it.

A number of other water-interested organizations discussed how water fit into larger themes they were advocating for. One such group—the #ClimateisWater campaign—encouraged countries to take water into account in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) and policies relating to other factors such as energy and health.

“The role of water as an integral pathway to build climate resilience and implement the Paris Agreement can never be overemphasized.”     -Alex Simalabwi with the Global Water Partnership Southern Africa (GWPSA) Executive Secretary, Head of the GWP Coordination Unit (CU) and Global Coordinator for the Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP)

Discussions occurring at panels and side events during Water Action Day focused on addressing three categories surrounding use of water in implementing the Paris Agreement and building resilience. These focus areas were:

  1. Water knowledge to respond to climate uncertainty

Many participants advocated for incorporating nature-based practices such as biochar, permeable soils, and other applications.

“We would be wise to apply lessons from across the world, even traditional rural populations in Africa or Asia, which have the potential to inform innovative, sagacious and responsible resource management, to adapt our planet to climate variation’s onslaught. The knowledge is there, we just have to listen and tap into it.”  -Maggie White, Manager International Policies, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Co-Chair, Alliance for Global Water Adaption (AGWA) and Steering Committee Member of the #ClimateIsWater Initiative

  1. Water for urban resilience

A common theme was the importance of collecting and sharing data on water availability and use for best practices in water management when planning at all levels from government to families.

 “Indeed, the sustainable use of water for multiple purposes must remain a way of life and needs to be at the centre of building resilient cities or human settlements and ensuring food security in a climate change context.”     -Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President of Women for Water, World Water Council Member and spokesperson for the #ClimateIsWater Initiative

  1. Water for sustainable agriculture and food security

Farmland water management practices were important discussions, especially considering expected impacts of climate change.

“Some of the smartest applications of sustainable farming come from countries and regions such as the south of Morocco or Pakistan, to name just a few, which are naturally poor in access to water from rainfall and riverbeds.”     -James Dalton, Coordinator, Global Water Initiatives, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Overall, Water Action Day at COP23 was filled with important and innovative dialogues on the role of water in the climate debate, and brought together key stakeholders that will need to work together to promote sustainable water initiatives for the future.

Interested in learning more? Check out these COP23 panels from Water Action Day!

GWP (Global Water Partnership) Media Briefing

GCA Water Round Table


A Vibrant Day Filled with Energy @COP23


Energy featured prominently at COP23 with the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Action Energy Day. Discussions on this day revolved around the energy transition and how to meet the Paris goals through decarbonization of electricity and energy systems in general.

The Sustainable Energy for All campaign forecasted how, “Energy Day at COP23 will tell the story of the ongoing energy transformation, showcase success stories, take stock of commitments made, and offer recommendations on the way forward.”

More than 300 delegates also attended Renewable Energy Day: Action on Climate and Accelerating Energy System Transformation organized by the International Renewable Energy agency (IRENA).

Sustainable Energy for All brings forth four main initiatives universally considered the success stories of the energy sector thus far:

  1. Three years flat carbon emissions
  1. Reduced demand for coal

“Renewable Energy has been the largest majority in terms of capacity addition to the global power sector the last three or four years in a row.”    -Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA

  1. Drop in solar, wind and battery prices

“[In just a few years] we could have PV cells that are ¼ the cost of what we are using today.”     -Alexey Tarasov, Lomonsav Moscow State University

  1. Increase in design and deployment of electric vehicles

 

One area that needs to be addressed further is how to build out energy efficiency measures in all end-use sectors of electricity, but especially in uses where emissions are difficult to decrease.

Sustainable Energy for All identified several courses of action needed:

  • build an evidence base and necessary actions as they relate to renewable energy
  • achieve greater efficiency in energy systems
  • create more connections between power and transport.

Several panelists presented how the discussion on power is basically over, renewable energy is becoming more and more accessible, building a business case for its use over coal and natural gas as it goes. Many countries are recognizing the need of renewable or sustainable energy usage as a means for reaching the Paris Agreement.

It is no longer a question of what do we need to do about energy, now the focus needs to shift to how will we make this transition, and how can we make it faster.

In the GCA Media Briefing on Energy, Water and Agriculture, Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA, discussed how technology, such as battery storage, will play a key role in the future of sustainable energy and its ability to be transported and made widely available.

Some positives in this discussion included:

  • Energy technology is commonly seen as an investment.
  • Furthering this scenario of investment can lead to more research and development of technological energy solutions.
  • The last key piece to assisting this transition is a better policy framework surrounding renewable and other sustainable energy alternatives.

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA, welcomed delegates to the Renewable Energy Day events with this opening statement,

“Renewable energy is good for climate and good for growth, which is the key message that we are bringing to this climate change conference.”

As more and more countries realize the importance and benefits of renewable energy, they are willing to jump on board and help out however they can. This participation could lead to the breakthrough needed to make renewable energy systems readily available for all.

Some countries are already on board as noted in this statement by Sandy Pitcher, the Governor of South Australia, about the solar transition and especially renewable energy access or households,

“We are looking to go as fast as we can because we know its what our communities want.”

Energy Day at COP23 was the perfect opportunity for many different associations, countries and other researchers/activists involved in the energy scene to share ideas of how to make the transition to sustainable and renewable as quick and effective as possible.

Interested in learning more? Check out these COP23 panels!

The Energy Transition Required to Implement the Paris Agreement

International Energy Association (IEA) Press Conference


The Challenges of the Energy-Water Nexus

Participants at UN Climate Talks are typically surrounded by discussions on a wide variety of climate impacts, climate solutions, and complex interactions. While it may seem like every issue is being discussed during numerous side panels and events, these same issues may not always be raised during the political side of the talks. Here, the focus often tends to rest on climate finance, Nationally Determined Contributions, adaptation/mitigation, and capacity building, with some topics such as gender and land use making an appearance.

One of the crucial issues not specifically included in this list is the energy-water nexus. It’s true that energy and water are woven into the issues discussed through technology, concerns for adaptation, and resilience, but energy-water nexus topics are often not independently discussed. The Paris Agreement states that without curbing emissions, there will be a massive concern for water resources, with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 6 and 7 set to specifically address water concerns. Even with the Paris Agreement in place, there may be many concerns about water availability and water quality in the future. Energy is more frequently addressed because of its importance in reaching the emission reduction plan set forth, but this does not consider the interactions between energy and water resources, nor how they may be impacted by climate change.

At COP23— the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)— held this November in Bonn, Germany the issues of water and energy took more of a center stage:

 

Energy Water Nexus Panel at COP23

 

The Global Climate Action (GCA) Initiative Media Briefing on Energy, Water and Agriculture stressed how everything that happens with climate, is linked to everything that happens with energy, is linked to everything that happens with water! Even a slight inefficiency in one area could lead to catastrophic impacts for the whole interaction.

As was aptly stated by René Castro, Assistant-Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “There is no room for inefficiency.”

Paulo Bretas de Almeida Salles, President of ADASA in Brazil (a regulatory agency for water and sanitation) presented concerns about water resources,

“There is a traditional idea that we have lots of water, that water is an infinite resource- now we are learning that this is not true.”

He also voiced the unmistakable connection that,

“Water and climate change are directly related… Everything that happens on earth based on climate has some relationship with water.”

In panel discussions, negotiators stressed how we need water to be able to provide and produce the necessities for this world, and discussed the connection between energy and water being that it takes energy to produce clean water and water is often needed to produce energy.

In the GCA Media Briefing they offered a summary of information:

  • Of total water use by humans, only 10% is safe drinking water; if even a small percentage of that water becomes unusable, there would be major impacts on availability worldwide.
  • Agriculture, on the other hand, uses 70% of total water use! The fact that this is such a high percentage opens the door for new advances in technology and water reduction strategies that would improve the world’s water situation.
  • One such technological advancement offers promise—renewable energy stands to use 20 times less water than conventional energy sources.

Both energy and water are resources with a history of being mismanaged, and both are resources that have a direct interaction with the forces of climate change. By including water and energy—both distinctly and as an interrelated force—in the discussion at COP23, new policies and guidelines can be established to more effectively manage these valuable resources and leverage them to our advantage in the fight against climate change.


Recipe for a Climate Skeptic

Decades ago, the tobacco industry claimed that smoking was not correlated to health issues and that nicotine was not an addictive drug. Today, we acknowledge the opposite conclusion and view smoking negatively. It sadly took 50 years to arrive at this decision, simply because of the confusion and doubt that tobacco companies fed to the public.

merchants_of_doubt

Merchants of Doubt book cover

With the “tobacco is healthy” myth debunked, it seems that industry leaders have latched onto a new topic about which to sew doubt amongst the public—climate change. The 2014 documentary “Merchants of Doubt” based on the book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway seeks to connect the public with the facts behind the climate denial movement.

The film presents that scientists have been aware of climate changes since 1988. Yet 28 years later we are still debating whether or not climate changes are occurring, and if those changes are a result of human activity.

A major claim by climate skeptics is that there is not enough scientific evidence to back up climate change. The reality is that 97% of scientists believe climate change is occurring, and 87% think it is due to human activity. And there is a wealth of supporting scientific research.

But as was observed with the tobacco industry, if you confuse the public they will lose their own opinions. Unfortunately, the disconnect between public opinion and science leaves an opening for critics to sew further doubt, enough to create a skeptic.

sustainability-1140984_640

The film points out that climate skeptics represent only a small sample of the population, and they have an economic interest in the continuance of climate change. These skeptics frequently are members of organizations that serve as fronts for the oil and coal industry. These organizations operate for profit, not for environmental protection. So climate skeptics prefer to bend the world to their opinions rather than loose revenue by admitting to scientific evidence.

Climate change is often improperly portrayed in the media. In order to present both sides, interviews usually include a climate supporter and a climate skeptic facing head-to-head. The same climate skeptics are featured repeatedly in the media, and climate supporters are usually scientists.

Both people have credentials that without further investigation seem to be important and relevant to the issue, leading the public to believe that both sides have credibility. Seeing both perspectives side-by-side leads the public to be unsure of which to trust more, thus creating public divide.

Only 50% of the American public believes that climate change is occurring and that humans are the cause. The urgent matter is to find ways to overpower the voices of the skeptics to show the other half of the country that climate change is an issue affecting them now.

This road is not easy. As shown in the film, many prominent climate scientists receive death threats because of their work. Protests for environmental justice are often shut down. One scientist was arrested three times during protests. The same occurs today, as with the protests at Standing Rock.

protest-455715__480

Signs at a climate protest

 

At this moment in history, our lives are being dictated by a select few who want to risk the planet for their own gain. If these merchants of doubt can be exposed for who they really are, and if the public works together to address this global issue, deniers would quickly lose the climate war. And just as the public has been enlightened to the dangerous impacts of smoking, so too can the world understand the dooming impacts of climate change.

 

 

Want to learn more about misrepresentation of climate change in the media? Check out this statistically accurate climate debate from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjuGCJJUGsg


Emory’s Carbon Footprint

sustainability-trio

Sustainability is a buzzword in today’s society, and Emory University is a national leader among college campuses. However, arriving on campus and seeing a compost bin for the first time can be a little daunting for some first-year students. Being unaware of its toll, new students often take the elevator up and down when they could use the stairs in their dorm instead.

While I am thrilled that I have joined this community and enjoy being part of the sustainability movement, some first-years might feel a little overwhelmed. It is very important to educate students so they can understand and appreciate the sustainability initiatives on campus. I learned more about the program and Emory’s future goals from Kelly O’Day Weisinger, a coordinator with Emory’s Office of Sustainability, who presented on the university’s Climate Action Plan.

Emory’s first strategic plan in 2005 enacted steps to decrease energy and water use, and reduce carbon emissions and landfill waste. Even with those efforts, the reality today is that Emory still has a relatively large carbon footprint (~354,762 metric tons CO2 per year).

emory-climate-graph

commutericon

Luckily, Emory’s footprint has stayed fairly constant over the past few years despite increases in campus square footage and a growing student population. Changes in transportation—for example, shuttle buses that run on biofuels produced on campus—helped a lot, decreasing emissions 3% from 2005 to 2010.

energyicon

Purchased electricity is responsible for the largest portion of Emory’s footprint totaling 55% of emissions in 2010. A lot of this is unfortunately because Georgia Power runs off coal and natural gas. The graph shows emissions from power are declining, but decreasing energy consumption continues to be a large issue on campus. I believe that pursuing alternative energy sources would be a great way to help achieve that goal. One suggestion is more power obtained from solar energy by expanding facilities on campus.

What is the most surprising part of Emory’s profile? The source of emissions that unfortunately increases annually is the contribution by students and faculty. Commuting, travel, and landfill waste are big examples of direct impacts that we have on Emory’s carbon footprint.

climateiconA new Climate Action Plan established last year with the help of students and faculty has set major goals towards reducing Emory’s impact on the environment, projecting a 20% reduction in overall carbon emissions by 2020 and shooting for 50% by 2050. Specific goals include reducing energy use by 50% per square foot, sourcing 75% of food locally or from sustainable means, and diverting 95% of wastes from landfills.

officeofsustainability

One of the things that stands out to me is how accessible sustainability is on campus. Through a combination of research, teaching, and community outreach, the Office of Sustainability Initiatives works to address issues that are within everyone’s reach.

recyclingiconStudents and faculty who have been at Emory for a while are pretty experienced on how to incorporate sustainable practices into their lives. However, one area that could use improvement is communication with the first-year class, especially considering that students come from such different experiences and not everyone knows about sustainable living.

watericon

I believe students are interested in sustainability but often just don’t know where to begin. Increased efforts to educate first-year students about sustainable practices—like hosting zero-waste events, taking shorter showers, and decreasing energy consumption from electronics—would be a great way to cut back on Emory’s footprint. Faculty and commuters can help decrease emissions by carpooling. Raising awareness, teaching practical methods, and encouraging students to be more accountable would start them on the right path for their four years on campus. An introduction to sustainability for new students can be found here: http://sustainability.emory.edu/page/1062/New-Student-Info

To learn more about each of the sustainability practices mentioned in this blog click on the icon featuring the topic you wish to explore. Find general information on sustainability at Emory here: http://sustainability.emory.edu/page/1002/ABOUT-US

 


css.php