rom an urban perspective, environmental management is a complex policy mix that requires the connection and coordination between a number of issues and the urban entities responsible for those issues. Nowhere is this more true than the nexus between food, energy, water and waste - four key resources that ultimately define Much of a city's lifestyles and consequent environmental problems.
This feature brings together the four themes under the FEWW Nexus that GDRC has been working on, in order to explore the interconnectedness and cross-cutting issues between them. Click on each of the four themes to explore the work done.
The thinking behind the FEWW nexus construct is straightforward - each of the four issues influence, and are influenced by, the other three issues.
The FEWW Nexus
Operationalizing concept of sustainability (or, for example, the SDGs) at the local level requires us to look at sustainable development - consumption and production - from a cyclical perspective. Ultimately, developing and implementing multi-stakeholder policies should help us achieve sustainability, targeting all aspects of our everyday lifestyles.
Nowhere is this more true, for example, than in the nexus between food, energy, water and waste - four key resources that help us define and better understand much of our daily lifestyles and consequent environmental, social and economic problems that they generate. These four issues are prime examples of problems the will help us in operationalizing a sustainable economy.
Cities and towns - human settlements in general - form the perfect laboratory for us to understand many of the consumption and production patterns that eventually result in the myriad of global environmental problems we face. Central to facilitating these systems are the economic management systems of food, energy, water and waste - each dependent on and influencing the others.
Besides the inherent interconnectedness between themselves, the four issues form the key starting points for a city's contribution to the global environmental problems that we are facing today - directly and indirectly: Climate change, biodiversity, desertification, et. al
Food and agricultural systems requires considerable amounts of water and energy during its production, transportation and storage, before it is consumed in an urban area. However, even before the food has reached a plate, 50% of the food will have been wasted or spoiled (and creating additional problems in the form of wastes, GHG emissions and pollution).
Policy Focus for Food:
Ensuring the security of food production and consumption systems, including food waste: Sustainability dimensions of the food cycle.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations in 2018 , it was estimated that about 1.5 billion tonnes of global food was wasted or lost, which accounted for approximately one third of total food production. Wasting food means wasting water and energy, since producing, processing and consuming of food contribute to about 70% of total global water withdrawn and 30% global energy consumed.
The CE components of food focusses on two aspects - food security, i.e. ensuring reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food; and food loss, i.e. food that is wasted during its both production and consumption cycles, including food production, processing transportation, sales and preparation stages.
Current estimates of food loss/food waste point to almost 50% of all food prepared worldwide being unconsumed and resulting in significant resources, including energy, water, land, being waste - besides the food itself creating further waste that needs energy to dispose, and methane and CO2 emissions to contend with.
Food policies in a circular economy need to focused on ensuring the security of food production and consumption systems, including reducing food waste. This would call for a revamped understanding of the sustainability dimensions of the food cycle.
Revamping the food cycle - agriculture production systems, distribution storage and sales ["farm-to-plate" startegies] lies at the core of improving food security. A circular economy would contribute to food security and reduction of food loss, by -
developing food production and food loss assessment methodologies and tools
developing tools to measure and reduce food loss along every stage of the food cycle value chain, from farmer to consumrer
using innvoative smart technologies for agricultural production and procesing, including eco-labelling and tracking
improved food handling, packaging and logistics
These three SDGs aim to end hunger and malnutrition, promote sustainable agriculture, and reduce the negative impact of the food system on the environment.
Energy production and consumption has been shown to have a key influence on CO2 and GHG emissions, that has resulted in global climate change. Within the perspective of the FEWW nexus, for example, much energy is consumed in managing water supply systems, and also in waste incineration installations.
Policy Focus for Energy:
Striving for efficiency in energy production, distribution and consumption: Shift to renewable energy sources
Sustainable energy policies in a circular economy will have to focus on three objectives:
Sustainability -- how much and at what rate is energy consumed, and its effect on long term sustainability; the quality and quantity of available alternative/renewable forms of energy; and the effect of existing energy use on the global environment as a whole.
Efficiency -- the technology, planning and management of energy systems that will facilitate efficient use of energy for human activity (including its non-use!).
Equity -- the appropriate financial mechanism for research, development and use of finite and alternative energy forms, and their equitable distribution for all humankind.
In practical terms, energy policies need to incorporate the entire continuum of issues:
of production, use and discharge of energy. Therefore, operating a circular economy that conserves energy requires us to look at three aspects, (1) how we produce energy, i.e. increasing use of renewable sources of energy, (2) how we use energy - i.e. using less energy and more efficiently for maximum output, and (3) how we discharge energy, i.e. reducing CO2 and GHG emissions and air pollution from energy use.
The energy policies that will help us move towards a circular economy needs to include, for example, (a) exploring and bringing to the market, alternative energy sources, (b) linking energy more integrally with global environmental issues (for example climate change or global warming), (c) co-relating environmental management efficiency with energy efficiency and (d) changes in lifestyles and increase in community involvement that will help achieve energy efficiency.
These SDGs aim to provide access to modern and sustainable energy, build resilient infrastructure, make cities more sustainable, and address the impacts of climate change.
@ GDRC programme on Urban Environmental Management
In many countries, water shortages stem from inefficient use, degradation of the available water by pollution and the unsustainable use of underground water in aquifers, the UN says. For example, 40 to 60 per cent of water used by utilities is lost to leakage, theft and poor accounting.
Policy Focus for Water:
Focusing on savings in water use, reuse, and wastewater treatment: Use less. Use it again.
How bad is the water crisis? Every 8 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease. About 50 percent of people in developing countries suffer from one or more water-related diseases and 50 percent of people on earth lack adequate sanitation. Not only is the toll a human tragedy, but it means these people are less able to carry on productive lives, and this undermines social and economic development.
The complexities of a water supply and wastewater system called for an integrated and holistic approach that underpins coordinated, responsive, and sustainable water resource management. Such an approach integrates water sources, water- use sectors, water services, and water management levels at the household, community, and city.
An integrated water management system looks at water as a resource, that has to be properly collected, treated, supplied, used, and the waste water rendered harmless before being released back into nature - principles that closely resemble those of a circular economy itself. Instituting and operationalizing a circular economy not only requires the prudent use of water at every stage stage of the production and consumption processes, but also its efficient collection, reuse, recycling and treatment.
From the FEWW Nexus perspective, integrated water policies in a circular economy is focused on prudent resource management. Water and waste/gray water are critical inputs for food production and consumption, and also require considerable energy in their collection and treatment before consumption, and in filtering waste water.
These SDGs aim to ensure access to safe and clean water, improve water management and sanitation, and conserve and sustainably use marine resources.
@ GDRC programme on Urban Environmental Management
A rising quality of life, and high rates of resource consumption patterns have had a unintended and negative impact on the environment - generation of wastes far beyond the handling capacities of local governments and agencies. Local governments, who are primarily responsible for waste management, are grappling with the problems of high volumes of waste, the costs involved, the disposal technologies and methodologies, and the impact of wastes on the local and global environment.
Policy Focus for Waste:
Promoting minimization in waste generation and highlighting the 3Rs: From 'waste disposal' to 'resource efficiency'
But these problems have also provided a window of opportunity for cities to find solutions - involving the community and the private sector; involving innovative technologies and disposal methods; and involving behaviour changes and awareness raising.
There is a clear need for the current approach of waste disposal that is focused on municipalities and uses high energy/high technology, to move more towards waste processing and waste recycling (that involves public-private partnerships, aiming for eventual waste minimization - driven at the community level, and using low energy/low technology resources. Some of the defining criteria for future waste minimization programmes will include deeper community participation, understanding economic benefits/recovery of waste, focusing on life cycles (rather than end-of-pipe solutions), decentralized administration of waste, minimizing environmental impacts, and reconciling investment costs with long-term goals.
Much of these issues are epitomized by the 3R approach. The 3R approach, focusing on reduce, reuse, and recycle, essentially aims to set up a sound material cycle society within the concept of a life-cycle economy, where consumption of natural resources is minimized and the environmental load is reduced, as much as possible. While '3Rs' stand for reduce, reuse and recycle, the concept itself goes beyond just better waste management and calls for the building of an economy based on the life-cycle approach, covering both sustainable production and sustainable consumption.
Thus, at its core, the key to managing waste is to stop callng it "waste" and to move towards better resource efficiency. Once again, a circular economy approach that looks at the life cycle of products and services that we use, helps us guide the way. Every stage of a product or service invariably produced wastes - how can these wastes first of all be minimized, or reused/recycled?
From the FEWW nexus perspective, waste not only has negative impacts on the environment in terms of resource inefficiency and pollution/emissions air, water and land, but it also needs considerable energy in its processing and recycling.
These SDGs aim to promote sustainable consumption and production patterns and reduce the negative impact of waste on the environment, particularly on oceans and marine resources.
@ GDRC programme on Urban Environmental Management
Why is the FEWW Nexus important?
Exploring the interlinkages between the food, energy, water, and waste sectors, often referred to as the "FEWW nexus," is a critical approach for sustainable development and resource management. These sectors are intricately connected, and changes in one can have significant impacts on the others. Understanding and managing these interdependencies is crucial for addressing global challenges such as climate change, population growth, and resource scarcity. Here are some key reasons why the FEWW nexus is critical:
Water and Agriculture: Agriculture is a major consumer of water. Changes in water availability directly affect food production.
Energy and Water: Energy production often requires significant water resources, such as in hydropower generation or cooling systems for thermal power plants.
Waste and Environment: Improper waste management can lead to water pollution and soil degradation, affecting both food production and water quality.
Climate Change Impact:
Food Production and Climate: Climate change can impact crop yields and water availability, affecting food production and energy generation.
Energy and Climate Change: The energy sector is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, influencing climate patterns and water availability.
Population Growth and Urbanization:
Increased Demand: Growing populations and urbanization lead to increased demands for food, energy, and water, putting stress on available resources.
Waste Generation: Rapid urbanization often results in increased waste generation, requiring effective waste management strategies.
Security and Resilience:
Resource Security: Ensuring the availability and access to food, energy, and water is crucial for national security and social stability.
Resilience to Shocks: Interconnected systems provide resilience against shocks, as improvements in one sector can enhance the overall stability of the nexus.
Policy and Governance:
Integrated Policies: Addressing challenges in the FEWW nexus requires integrated policies that consider the interdependencies between these sectors.
Governance Challenges: Effective governance is essential to manage these interlinkages, as policies in one sector may have unintended consequences in others.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
Alignment with SDGs: The FEWW nexus is closely linked to several Sustainable Development Goals, such as zero hunger, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, and responsible consumption and production.
Examples: The FEWW Policy Approach
United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), Goal 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), and Goal 13 (Climate Action), highlight the interconnectedness of food, energy, water, and waste. The SDGs provide a global framework for countries to integrate the FEWW nexus into their policies.
European Union's Horizon 2020 Project - "SIM4NEXUS":
The SIM4NEXUS project focuses on developing sustainable solutions by integrating the FEWW nexus into policy-making. It involves collaboration between multiple sectors and stakeholders to enhance resource efficiency and address the challenges of resource scarcity and environmental degradation.
Singapore's "Four National Taps" Strategy:
Singapore has implemented a strategy that integrates the FEWW nexus into its water management policies. The "Four National Taps" approach combines local catchment water, imported water, high-grade reclaimed water (NEWater), and desalinated water to ensure water security for the city-state.
The Nexus Approach in the Middle East:
Countries in the Middle East, facing challenges of water scarcity and energy demands, have adopted the nexus approach to integrate water, energy, and food policies. Initiatives focus on sustainable agriculture, efficient water use in energy production, and renewable energy development.
China's South-North Water Transfer Project:
China's South-North Water Transfer Project is a large-scale infrastructure initiative that integrates water management policies to address regional water scarcity. The project aims to transfer water from the water-rich south to the water-scarce north, considering the interlinkages between water, energy, and food production.
The Water-Energy-Food Nexus Platform in Africa:
Various initiatives in Africa, such as the Water-Energy-Food Nexus Platform, aim to integrate the FEWW nexus into regional and national policies. These initiatives recognize the importance of balancing competing demands for water, energy, and food resources for sustainable development.
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More than one million people are added to the world's cities each week, and by the year 2000 over a half of the total world population will be urban. This will put further pressure on existing food, energy water and waste systems in the world's cities.
With water and wastewater treatment plants running 24 hours a day, this can account for more than 30-40% of a local government's energy consumption.
GDRC calculated Tokyo's ecological footprint (the land area needed to obtain the resources required for everyday life). It turned out to be almost three times the land area of Japan as a whole!!
An important theme related to the FEWW issues is that of which GDRC covers in its Urban Environmental Management programme
What would be the role of different stakeholders in the FEWW Nexus? How can they ensure the security of the FEWW themes?