Good morning distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honor for me to welcome you to this important meeting today. Before I begin, I would like to extend my gratitude to Mr Hong Peng Liu for his warm welcome. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Director Chung and his team in the Energy and Development Division of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific for their ongoing and productive collaboration with FAO; and particularly in organizing this expert group meeting.
As we have already heard from Mr Liu, water, energy and food are closely linked and as the countries in our region continue to develop, grow and modernize we can only expect that the demands for each will grow and that, without proper management, the natural resources that underpin each sector will become m scarce. But while it is true that we are more aware of these shared food, energy and water challenges we are still far to a workable, unified approach to tackle the challenges presented by the nexus of water, energy and food. A key reason for this is that we still work to address these challenges separately within our traditional sector or disciplinary boundaries.
Looking at the positive contribution of nexus from the perspective of food security, the development of water resources and energy applications for agricultural production has in many places paved the way for greater harvests and an improved food security situation for many. At the global level, since 1950 irrigated area has doubled and water withdrawal has tripled. This development in combination with improved crop varieties and better plant nutrition has driven past agricultural productivity and allowed world food production to outstrip population growth, bringing benefits for all, propelling economies, and improving the livelihoods of rural people. Statistics show that the amount of food that is produced per unit of water, more than doubled between 1960 and 2000. Similarly, the agriculture sector has also benefitted from the wider availability of energy and energy intensive inputs for pumping irrigation water, housing livestock, cultivating and harvesting crops, drying and storage of crops, operating farm machinery and fertilizing fields.
However, these developments have not come without cost. Growth in the agriculture sector and others has in many cases also led to damaged and degraded ecosystems, with increased contamination and pollution, river drying, loss of biodiversity and habitat, salinization and rapid decline of groundwater resources; particularly in the more densely populated areas of our region. Increasing pressure on finite water resources has also created growing tension between water users from local communities to national governments. As more water is claimed either for agricultural production, urban development or energy generation the number of regions and river basins where such problems arise will only increase. Uncoordinated sector policies and lack of proper strategies further promote such tensions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bioenergy sector presents an interesting case study in this regard. Bioenergy has been promoted by a number of countries in the region as one means to improve energy security and also mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector as a way of tackling climate change. If managed properly the bioenergy sector can present a range of opportunities to develop clean, domestic energy sources with additional benefits for rural development. But if poorly conceived and developed, the bioenergy sector can also lead to competition for land and water resources and, ultimately, undermine food and water security.
Amidst these challenges there are also opportunities. Through the Secretary General’s ‘Sustainable energy for all initiative’ and the forthcoming decade of ‘Sustainable energy for all’ greater attention is being directed toward energy access, renewable energy and energy efficiency as mechanisms to put us on more sustainable development pathways. In line with the pillars of this initiative FAO has launched an initiative called ‘Energy-Smart Food for people and climate initiative’. Underpinning this initiative is a shift to energy-efficient agri-food systems which make greater use of renewable energy technologies and better integrate food and energy production, we consider this is a viable solution for simultaneously reducing agri-food systems’ dependency on fossil fuels, sustainably improving productivity in the food sector and reducing energy-poverty in rural areas while also contributing to broader development goals related to national food security, climate change and sustainable development.
If water, energy and food security are to be simultaneously achieved, decision-makers, who are often responsible for only a single sector, must consider broader influences and trade-offs. This requires innovative policies and institutions, including water-food-energy integration when designing and implementing food, energy and water security policy and initiatives in the future.
However, while this sounds good in theory, at this stage we still lack a clear vision of what constitutes a nexus approach and tangible evidence or examples that demonstrate how a nexus approach will offer practical guidance for addressing growing problems of resource scarcity and associated conflicts. For example, it is foreseeable that in some areas of our region difficult decisions and trade-offs will be needed to allocate water between agriculture, cities, industries and energy generators. In order to make such decisions policy makers will require evidence-based approaches that retain a satisfactory level of analytical rigor, but that are also conceptually intuitive, stakeholder inclusive and can be adopted with relative ease.
Before concluding, I wish to share my perspective of this meeting which has two clear tasks ahead of it. The first task will be to embrace cross-disciplinary ways of working and identify how existing sector specific approaches can be integrated into a unified ‘nexus’ approach that can be adopted by policy makers around the region. The second task will be to identify the specific geographical areas or hotspots where, because of particularly imminent and acute problems of resource scarcity and conflict, nexus approaches are particularly relevant and most needed.
Over the coming three days I hope that we will start to produce a clearer vision of how the Water-Food-Energy nexus can move beyond a conceptual framework to become an approach of tangible and action oriented, and lasting value for the people.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am confident that, with your experience and knowledge, those goals would be achieved.
Finally, I would like to thank you all for your participation and once again thank the staff from UNESCAP for their strong and productive collaboration in organizing this event.
I wish you all the best for a productive meeting.