If Nexus can succeed here, it can work anywhere”: REXUS project tackling Nexus challenges in ambitious pilot cases

If Nexus can succeed here, it can work anywhere”: REXUS project tackling Nexus challenges in ambitious pilot cases

The REXUS project’s 1st plenary meeting took place on 21 and 27 October 2021, with more than 60 participants from over 20 institutions. The consortium shared advances on various pieces of the REXUS ‘jigsaw puzzle’ which is coming together to create new blueprint for applying the Water-Energy-Food-Climate Nexus. REXUS is focusing on 5 pilot sites in Europe and Latin America, where top-down analysis and bottom-up stakeholder engagement are being combined to tackle complex natural resource challenges.

PINIOS GREECE: 90% of water resources used (and misused) for agriculture

Andreas Panagopoulos, from SWRI, Greece, highlighted that the Greek pilot case, Pinios river basin, encompasses all the challenges of the Nexus. The Pinios basin, in Greece, in the heartland of agricultural Greece, faces intense pressures from agriculture, which accounts for 90% of water use. Political debates on resource use have been going on for decades, against a backdrop of widespread ignorance about the Nexus, and a low awareness of the need to protect natural resources. Meanwhile, Nexus conflicts are growing, as hydropower gains ground, photovoltaic parks tend to replace agricultural land, and the energy costs of groundwater pumping are rising.

Cracking the Nexus puzzle in this challenging pilot area, would provide the ‘key’ to unlocking Nexus solutions all over Greece. “If Nexus can succeed here, it can work anywhere” stressed Mr. Panagopoulos, raising the stakes for REXUS’ efforts in `this ambitious pilot case.

LOWER DANUBE: Intensive economic exploitation causing environmental degradation

The effects of ecosystem degradation are evident in the transboundary Lower Danube basin, in Romania/Serbia and Romania/Bulgaria. Taking part in the REXUS plenary meeting from the field in the Lower Danube basin, Albert Scrieciu from GeoEcoMar, Romania, described the challenges of this transboundary REXUS pilot. Complex morphology with different types of riverbanks, with different sensitivity to floods, require detailed evidence-based management. Resource conflicts are complex, not least due to the operation of 2 large dams for hydropower which affect water level, navigation traffic, agriculture, and even impact drinking water supply.

The issue in Lower Danube, stressed Mr. Scrieciu, is choosing between intensive exploitation of natural resources to maximise short-term economic benefit, versus opting for sustainable exploitation, with a lower degree of short-term financial benefits and a lower impact on natural resources. This is the dilemma that REXUS will help address, by providing analytical tools and evidence to evaluate detailed comprehensive long-term scenarios.

ISONZO/SOCA, Italy/Slovenia: Nexus challenges compounded by the transboundary dimension

All REXUS pilots are relying on active bottom-up engagement from stakeholders to provide their first-hand knowledge of the areas’ pertinent Nexus challenges. This is nowhere more evident than in the Isonzo River basin, where one of the basin’s key stakeholders, the Italian River Basin authority (AUTORITA’ DI BACINO DISTRETTUALE DELLE ALPI ORIENTALI – AAWA), is a partner in the REXUS project. Francesca Lombardo, from AAWA, Italy, analysed the Nexus challenges in the Isonzo basin, which are compounded by the transboundary nature of the area. The Italian part of the basin is totally dependent on Slovenian water management, due to the existence of a large dam for hydropower production, which also has a large impact on flood management.

The Isonso/Soca pilot highlights the urgent need for a complete management vision for the basin, based on synergies between the two countries. Through extensive data gathering and use of modeling tools, REXUS aims to provide the common framework that will enable this holistic analysis.

NIMA river basin, Colombia: Ecosystems threatened by intensive agricultural use and climate change

Shaping a sustainable management vision through a Nexus lens is precisely the aim of the NIMA river basin pilot in Colombia, where pristine Andean ecosystems with endemic species of fauna and flora are being pressured by intensive water use for extensive sugar cane plantations. Nexus challenges are intense, given also the presence of hydropower plants, and the need to supply freshwater for more than 300,000 inhabitants in the region. Climate change in particular is expected to have a strong impact on the region, which displays a ‘very high’ hydric vulnerability index.

In NIMA, REXUS is focusing efforts on influencing and assisting the development of the territorial and land use planning of Palmira municipality (POT in Spanish). REXUS will assist both in the territorial participatory diagnosis, as well as the territorial prospective, the future planning of the territory development. The key question that REXUS will help address is: “What do stakeholders desire for the area in the future, given the growth of needs in different sectors and against a backdrop of climate change impacts?”

PENINSULAR SPAIN and Jucar River basin: Using the Nexus to break down administrative barriers 

Breaking down not only sectoral, but also geographical and administrative barriers to efficient natural resource management is the aim of the Peninsular Spain pilot, which is also focusing on the Jucar River basin as a sub-pilot. Peninsular Spain contains 13 river basins but is divided in 17 autonomous regions, creating a very complex reality in terms of river basin administration, with shared and overlapping competencies on environmental and water resources. Anna Osann from Agrisat, Spain, highlighted the overall REXUS aim to help develop a common approach in managing Nexus issues at the basin level. Laura Tanco of the Confederación Hidrográfica del Júcar, a key REXUS stakeholder in the Jucar basin, analysed the challenges specific to the basin.

Weaving the Nexus strands together

Meanwhile, the different research strands of the project are advancing and coming together to form powerful analytical tools to be applied in the 5 pilot areas: climate projections and climate risk assessments, energy, carbon and water accounting and footprints, land-use mapping and Earth Observation based indicators are being combined to help analyse different dimensions of the local integrated Nexus systems. The potential of Nature based solutions to resolve conflicts and address challenges is being systematically explored, while Systems Dynamic Modelling and coupled resource flow analysis are being deployed to analyse the co-evolution of sectors over time, shedding light on the underlying, but often hidden, drivers that crucially affect all Nexus sectors.

“Taking The First Step”: Facing the Nexus Challenge

How to summarise the overall aim of the REXUS project? Referring to the case of Pinios, Greece, Andreas Panagopoulos hinted at the overall challenge that the pilots, and REXUS as a whole, should rise to:

“We often ask officials how to manage resources but we don’t give them a plan. We ask civilians to protect resources, but we don’t show them how or why to do it. We understand that we need to co-exist, but nobody really takes the first step in this direction.” This is challenge that the REXUS project has taken on.

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