The debate on natural resource scarcity was recently reignited. New scientific findings suggest that humanity has exceeded the planetary boundaries, threatening its own safe operation. Five attributes characterize the new realism of physical and economic scarcity of key resources: lack of undeveloped resource preserves, challenges of exploiting new resources, emergence of new consumers, volatility of resource prices and broadening of actors in governing resources. Of all the natural resources, water, food and energy are most needed to sustain life on earth. These three resources are tightly interconnected, forming a resource and policy nexus. Their insecurity is an impediment to social stability and economic growth. This report traces the debate, analysis and action on the water, food and energy (WFE) security nexus.
Considering the complex interactions of these three resources will require new institutional capacity in both industrialized and developing countries. For the nexus approach to achieve the twin goals of human well-being and green growth, sustainability must move center-stage, with attention given to ecosystem services. The increase in resource use in Asia and the Pacific region between 1970 and 2005 was above the world average. This economic growth resulted in the region’s reliance on fossil fuel sources. Countries in Asia and the Pacific region accounted for almost half the world’s CO2 emissions in 2008. The security of water, food and energy resources in the region has been compromised in parallel with decades of economic development. The fastest increase in water demand in Asia is now coming from the industry and urban households, not agriculture. For decades, economic growth in Asia has required ever-expanding amounts of energy. On food security, over 20 per cent of the undernourished populations live in South and South-West Asia, with the most acute problems in Afghanistan. Currently, there is only rudimentary understanding of the complex and pervasive connections between water, food and energy security in the region.
This position paper reviews the region’s experiences with the interlocking effects of the WFE nexus, which results in challenges that cross two or even all three of the domains. Examples include biofuel; hydropower; thermoelectric production and water security; irrigation and food security; irrigation and energy security; food trade and virtual water, land and food security; and the intertwining effect of water production and energy security. The meaning of the nexus is further explored by using two case studies, namely Central Asia and the Mekong Basin. Not surprisingly, in existing policy frameworks, energy and water policies are developed largely in isolation from one another. The concluding section outlines five key areas of policy interventions needed to mainstream the nexus concept in Asia and the Pacific region.