Sustainable development as the ultimate target of adopting a nexus approach to resources management

Introduction and aim

Resource productivity and sustainable development: Challenges and limitations

The United Nations’ Agenda for Sustainable Development underlines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets. The lack of holistic knowledge on the interdependency between the SDGs and an interpretation of cause-and-effect relationships that connect the SDGs enormously challenges national policymakers that must implement that are in charge of implementing the 2030 agenda at the national level and achieving the goals across environmental, economic, and social dimensions (Griggs et al. 2017; Dörgo et al. 2018). The international scientific community started to measure the trade-offs and synergies between SDGs. For this exercise, it proved helpful to make use of the concept of the water—energy—food (WEF) nexus, which showed that when addressing challenges like water, energy and food security, integrated approaches to resources management across these sectors should be used and dependent resources considered equally (Hoff 2011). The WEF nexus concept is now starting to be implemented and is recognised as an essential tool for achieving and monitoring progress towards SDGs (Bleischwitz et al. 2018; Hülsmann & Ardakanian 2018).

Nevertheless, the WEF is still challenged by a few limitations, in particular concerning comprehensive coverage of the interlinkages between sectors and resources (Albrecht et al. 2018). Besides, nexus assessments are only starting to address all dimensions of sustainability, including the environmental aspect, one primary reason being that ecosystem services (WEF-E) are hardly reflected in nexus tools (Hülsmann et al. 2019). This chapter aims to highlight the necessity of including innovative tools in the assessment of the WEF nexus approach to adopt resources management to achieve Sustainable development. To effectively counteract the potential trade-offs across SDGs, holistic ecosystem management and sustainable practices are required to increase resource productivity.

Sector-oriented resource management often neglects the potential impacts (trade-offs and synergies) on other resources or sectors, causing less resource use efficiency and productivity, thus, increasing the risk of unsustainability (Zhang & Schwiirzel 2017a). Exemplification result of this management is the food production sector and its supply that became the lead consumer of nearly 30% of the total global energy and 70% of freshwater resources (FAO 2011). A shift from single-sector/resource-focused management to nexus-oriented resource management is thus a more effective way to deal with the complexity of interactions across sectors, resources, and SDGs under a changing global context (Zhang & Schwarzel 2017b; Nilsson et al. 2018).

Food (SDG2) and water (SDG6) are closely interlinked and to achieving higher food production to guarantee food security for an ever-growing world population significantly depends on more water (in sufficient quality), and land or much higher productivity is required. For productions of quality food, fertile soils and clean water are necessary. However, boosting crop yields in food production implies an intensification of agricultural practices which typically goes along with land and water degradation. Contemporarily, the agriculture produce, biomass and agricultural wastes are potentially a source of renewable energy that creates competition between food (SDG2) and energy (SDG7) security over the same land and water resources. Moreover, using agricultural waste for energy instead of implementing composting and mulching may also decrease soil fertility' in the long term.

Boosting the production of food and energy crops, even if primarily achieved by increased efficiency (thus without extending agricultural areas at the expense of natural forests and other terrestrial ecosystems) may compromise ecosystem services supply if not achieved sustainably. It may also compromise the social dimension of sustainability, for example, if working conditions and social standards in the agriculture sector are poor. The intrinsic trade-off briefly outlined for the WEF nexus clearly shows that resource productivity/efficiency only partially represents sustainability which should instead be understood in a broader sense.

WEF-E: Mitigating trade-offs between resource productivity and sustainable resource management

Demand for natural resources utilisation has reached dangerous limits threatening ecosystem functions together with the services that they provide to support essential human well-being (Foley et al. 2011). Evidence from natural system modifications shows that farmlands dominate 38% of the global surface and these sectors (energy and agriculture) are likely to remain dominant drivers of change (Zabel et al. 2019). This increased demand and competition for resources together with the current degradation of land and water systems make clear the need for action at different levels to mitigate natural resources depletion. Understanding how the ongoing land-use change and socioeconomic transitions can be turned from a challenge into an opportunity is critical to achieve sustainable development. As highlighted by the United Nations during the recent High-Level Policy Forum (HLPF 2018), such a

The ultimate target of a nexus approach 69 challenge though needs to be tackled if Sustainable development goals (SDGs) have to be implemented. The reason of the disparities between the social demand and the total capacity of ecosystems to provide goods lies in (1) the so far adopted non-holistic natural resource management and in (2) missing measurable involvement of the society both in terms of participation and benefits (Seppelt et al. 2011; Mach et al. 2015; Hiilsmann et al. 2019).

The ecosystem services approach addresses the interconnection between ecosystem sendees supply and societal demands, providing critical information to disentangle the interconnection between sections (nexus assessments). Furthermore, the approach seeks for a better understanding of the components and functions of socioecological systems, by separating the multiple services and benefits from ecosystems taking into consideration trade-offs and synergies within them (Carpenter & Folke 2006; Rockstrom et al. 2009; Cord et al. 2017). The information contained in the trade-off and synergies put on the value the importance of ecosystem services for human well-being. Such information are obviously essential for integrated resources management and central element in nexus assessments (for example. De Strasser et al. 2016; Liu et al. 2017). The integration of ecosystem service would thus turn the WEF nexus into a WEF-E nexus (Carmona Moreno et al. 2018).

However, thus far, this has hardly been practised or implemented (Hiilsmann et al. 2019). In this context, considerations of the spatial and temporal scale are crucial since ecosystem functions and processes are scaledependent (Gret-Regamey et al. 2014; Raudsepp-Hearne & Peterson 2016).

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