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Urban Nexus

Project Overview

As highlighted in the State of Asian and Pacific Cities 2015 Report, in 2018 the Asia and Pacific region will pass a historic threshold, in which over half of its population will be living in urban areas. All sub-regions in Asia and the Pacific are experiencing urban growth at higher rates than overall population. The urban transformation has been rapid and is having a profound impact on the region’s natural resources. The high resource intensity of the region’s economies and the levels of waste and emissions across the region call for enhanced action on efficiency in the use of water, energy, land and ecosystem services.

Integrated approaches as emphasized in the global agendas (including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda) and reflected through the urgent call for coherent policies and innovative urban initiatives are a key to efficient use of shared resources in cities. This enhances the quality of life in urban regions by minimizing the negative trade-offs and fully realizing the synergies across critical sectors. It minimizes resource extraction, energy consumption and waste generation, while simultaneously safeguarding ecosystem services and strengthening urban economies.

Noting the need for transformative urban change and the associated challenges, we are committed through this project and through our overall work and partnerships, to create an impact and follow the agenda on urban nexus or ‘Integrated Resource Management in Cities’. A nexus framework – a framework that cuts across sectors such as land (food), water and energy - placed in the context of meeting the region’s urbanization and sustainability challenges, provides a useful framework which moves beyond sector-specific policies and planning.

Our Approach

Since 2013, ESCAP, GIZ and ICLEI along with the local and national governments have been promoting an integrated approach to the critical sectors of water, energy and food/land. In particular, the programme focusses on water supply and sanitation systems, energy security and efficiency, land use, spatial planning and food security. The Nexus approach aims at utilizing the synergy of integrated resource management in order to improve the security of supply and efficiency of urban resource use.

The main objective of the project is to enhance the capacity of national and local governments in developing countries in Asia-Pacific to formulate and implement integrated policies, plans and initiatives for the sustainable management of natural resources in urban areas. The project oversees the design, planning and, where possible, implementation of practical nexus initiatives (with a focus on water, energy, land and/or food security) and at the same time seeks to feed the experiences gained at the local and national level into regional policy dialogues and learning platform to achieve a regional pooling of knowledge and to promote the necessary shifts in policy and practice. Through dedicated National Dialogues and outreach events at key global conferences, it aims to identify the entry points for the application of the urban nexus initiatives, with a view to developing recommendations on the institutional, regulatory and financing arrangements required to facilitate implementation of urban nexus initiatives, in particular, in the partner cities. This lays the foundation for a regional and national scaling-up of the nexus approach. Furthermore, ESCAP will distil policy recommendations and bridge the work conducted at the local level with national policies, as well as regional and global initiatives and highlight the relevance of integrated resource management and mainstream nexus principles and know-how into the region’s urban policies, strategic frameworks and plans.

The Cities

Cities are increasingly national development assets producing an estimated 80 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP). With more than half of humankind living in cities and the number of urban residents growing by nearly 73 million every year, they are increasingly at the center of unsustainable and inefficient resource-use patterns, and therefore it is in the urban environment where the need and opportunity for change lies. It is crucial in this context to involve municipal and regional actors and utilities towards more integrated planning and management. However, the majority of cities/municipal administrations and utilities in Asia-Pacific continue to plan and manage along sectoral lines and rarely in a coordinated manner. As such they are not able to fully utilise the interaction and synergies across key urban nexus sectors (i.e. water, energy and food security) and the potential co-benefits arising from integrated resource management and planning.

Within this context, it is essential to work towards an integrated approach, with city administrations and urban stakeholders for the localization of global development agendas. The aim is to support cities in developing more integrated, cross-sectoral approaches to urban planning and to develop their own nexus initiatives, through the following key actions:

  • Providing needful technical assistance
  • Identifying the entry points for ‘urban nexus’ initiatives
  • Addressing possible sources of finance for such initiatives
  • Integrating the key elements of nexus initiative into urban development strategies and plans
  • Strengthening necessary institutional/management arrangements to enhance governance
  • Promoting international agenda-setting through best practices and experiences

The following cities and countries are participating in the project:

  • Rizhao, China
  • Weifang/Binhai Development Zone, China
  • Nagpur, India
  • Rajkot, India
  • Pekanbaru, Indonesia
  • Tanjungpinang, Indonesia
  • Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
  • Naga, Philippines
  • Santa Rosa, Philippines
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
  • Da Nang, Viet Nam




The Impact

At the outset, the project in phase I (2013-2015) was able to assist selected cities in identifying opportunities for introducing a nexus approach and develop concrete project ideas, while establishing a dialogue between national and local governments to identify policy barriers to the promotion of integrated resource management in cities and how to remove these barriers. Participating cities identified options, completed feasibility studies, identified barriers associated with implementation and financing options. Partner cities, participating countries and multiple stakeholders built a strong network for knowledge sharing.

At the regional level, the project has effectively promoted dialogue and knowledge sharing in terms of effectively enhancing awareness, knowledge and capacities of national and local policy-makers and other relevant stakeholders. Moreover, the project has been successful in embedding the urban nexus concept into leading regional intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder dialogues and platforms, and has considerably strengthened its political acceptance and recognition beyond the countries, cities and stakeholders directly engaged. Through regional workshopsnational policy dialogues and outreach events, the project reached out to more than 2,000 national and local policy-makers and other relevant stakeholders. The project was able to influence and enhance decision-making and policy-making towards a more integrated approach to resource management both at the national and the local level.

  • Naga, for example, is updating its 2011-20 Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) and the 2016-30 Comprehensive Land Use Plan of Naga city, based on integrated resource management principles. It will integrate the nexus principles of cross-sectorial coordination; leverage synergies across key sectors of water, land and energy; collaborate across administrative domains to improve institutional functioning; and optimize resource management in its spatial planning. This will bring about a more liveable city where communities are resilient, natural resources are protected, recycled and reused; and land use policies lessen vulnerability of people and property.
  • As a collaborative approach, and with funds made available under the WB project "Danang Sustainable City Development Project (SCDP)”, Da Nang has been able to introduce innovative technologies aiming at resource efficiency in the wastewater and sewerage systems. A pilot project for 110 households, based on the concept of separate sewerage system, to efficiently increase the organic load in the wastewater will be implemented. Also the kitchen waste from households will be combined with the increased organic load in the wastewater for energy production, treated wastewater will be used for irrigation and the agricultural residue will be used for urban farming, complying with the principles of integrated resource management to optimize benefits and reduce sectorial trade-offs. This pilot is likely to be replicated for 11,000 households in the future
  • Within the context of the booming industrial growth experienced by the City of Santa Rosa, the value of its land is increasing immensely. Responding to this, the city intends to maximize the value of its existing spaces through integration of systems and efficient use and management of its resources. The low-cost housing project is envisioned to be a showcase of green building, innovative waste water management, public private partnership and an integrated approach towards the achievement of a sustainable and inclusive city. This initiative is expected to translate actions not only for the betterment of community members’ lives that will be provided with their own housing units but also an example of how critical resources such as energy and water can be used efficiently.
  • The city of Baguio, Philippines has adopted green governance as the center-piece of local administration. Building on the recommendations from the regional workshops organized by ESCAP and GIZ, and the national workshops organized by ICLEI, the City has been able to craft a water code that serves as the enabling policy framework for multi-sectorial, horizontal and vertical collaboration and has pro-actively forged agreements across all sectors and agencies and initiated adoption of the urban nexus approach in wastewater management.

Urban Nexus and Global Development Agendas

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015, calls on countries to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the next 14 years. It attributes crucial importance to the inter-linkages and integrated nature of the SDGs. Of these, the urban-dedicated Goal 11 aims to ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.’ However, all of the 17 SDGs are related to local governments and will require direct involvement of local actors.

Urban nexus as an integrated approach to resource management can play a key role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Synergies developed between nexus approaches and integrative solutions such as peri-urban agriculture, rainwater harvesting, waste management and sustainable land use planning can not only enhance water, energy and food security but also improve resilience and livelihoods of urban areas. For example, urban and peri-urban farming is an efficient way to meet the city’s food system, reduce city’s external water footprint as well as utilizing run-off water, and offer opportunities for resource recovery (urban wastes to energy- target 7.2; treated wastewater for irrigation- target 6.3) and climate change adaptation (e.g., designating low lying urban areas and flood plains for agriculture to reduce the impact of floods – target 13.1). Adopting an urban nexus approach would also support the implementation of a number of other targets.

In addition, through promotion and development of urban spatial frameworks that support sustainable management and use of natural resources and land, strengthen food system planning, enhance resource efficiency, urban resilience, and environmental sustainability, integration of resources supports the implementation of the New Urban Agenda promoting cities as key drivers of development and enhancing a circular economy approach.

Furthermore, local and regional efforts to integrate and efficiently manage water, energy, and land resources can contribute to greenhouse gas emission reductions, thus contributing to the fulfillment of the ambitious climate goals denoted in the Paris Agreement.