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Understanding climate-water-energy-food nexus and streamlining water-related policies

The objective of this action is to develop and test innovative solutions, improved operations and integrated management and planning for achieving water, energy and food security and safety within the planetary boundaries and resolve conflicts between upstream and downstream water users and citizens. Proposals should assess the interlinkages and interdependencies of water, food and energy sectors and ecosystems in different water bodies, in particular transboundary ones. Climatic, environmental, land-use, social and economic trends and governance regimes in the water and these interlinked sectors should be also considered.

Proposals should also identify, develop, demonstrate and test innovative, multi-beneficial solutions that can best deliver good water status, in terms of quantity and quality, sustainable food and energy security, enhance human wellbeing and resolve conflicts between different users and different sectors. New integrated policies, governance mechanisms, learning and communication tools that can deliver good water status, sustainable food and energy security, taking into consideration the trade-offs between the 3 sectors, should be also developed. Sustainability criteria to be considered include full climate-change mitigation effects based on full carbon accounts, impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, conservation of fertile soils and other biophysical impacts along with socioeconomic equity and justice criteria.

Mechanisms and tools that support common evidence, build and enhance trust between the different stakeholders and allow them to jointly address the trade-offs and identify win-win strategies, should be also addressed. This could include innovative monitoring schemes, demand forecasting, socio-economic assessments, scenario planning, behavioural change (including a gender analysis, when relevant), using social science approaches and financial levers to implement a real water- energy-food nexus approach and increase efficiencies, equity and sustainability.

This action should also address climate impacts on integrated water management, that is, implications for drought risk, water scarcity, drinking water availability and quality, food production and security and energy production and how the vulnerability of water resources can be reduced. Case studies over different geographical regions and challenges to facilitate tailored analyses and test the developed solutions should be considered. Actions to generate and analyse the relevant data required to assess the nexus interlinkages and trade-offs and ensure their long-term availability in the context of relevant EU data infrastructures should be also considered.

Participation of a broad range of different stakeholders around water, energy and food security strategies, including policy makers will be essential.

In line with the strategy for EU international cooperation in research and innovation (COM(2012)497), international cooperation is encouraged. Proposals should avoid duplication with ongoing EU funded research and innovation actions, while strengthening potential synergies. Activities are expected to achieve TLR 5 by the end of the project.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU in the range of EUR 4-5 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Water, energy and food are essential for human well-being, poverty reduction and sustainable development. Projections suggest that the demand for freshwater, energy and food will be on the rise due to, amongst other factors, demographic changes, economic development, and international trade. This puts in jeopardy the availability of these resources for different uses. Climate change exacerbates water demands, putting additional pressures on water availability and quality, including biodiversity, while at the same time causing extreme events (floods /droughts) that have severe socioeconomic and environmental consequences. Actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change and variability can have strong implications for the surface and ground water system and its users, for example, when fossil fuels are replaced by hydropower or biofuels. Moreover, changes in energy usage and types of energy production affect water usage and impact agricultural production. All these pressures result in conflicts in allocation of water and between the water – energy – food sectors, which causes additional concerns for the sustainable management of surface and ground water bodies, especially the transboundary ones, where a very large proportion of world's population is living. However, despite this, the strong linkages between water, climate, energy and food are seldom understood and rarely incorporated in the development of national and regional water, food and energy security policies or climate policies. Therefore there is a need to better align water-related or water-dependent policies looking in a systemic way from the natural climate-water-energy-food nexus perspective at various geographical scales, and taking into account economic, political and societal aspects.

The project results are expected to contribute to:

  • more accurate evaluations of future demands for water, energy, food and related infrastructures at both local and global scales, taking also into consideration the ecosystem needs
  • enhance sharing knowledge and best practices in climate-water-energy-food nexus assessment and management and help create critical mass on capacity to innovate;
  • improve integrated water resources management and increase resilience to climate change, considering the value of water for ecosystems and their services and ensuring good quantitative and qualitative status of water, sustainable agriculture, food and energy production, as well as water, food and energy security;
  • help linking EU water policy objectives with the sustainable objectives of greening the CAP and ensuring sustainability and quality of water resources and resource and energy efficiency policy objectives, achieving for instance, zero energy and minimal water use for renewable energy extraction from water, and net zero carbon emissions by 2050 to hit a 1.5-degree warming target, enabling the combination of water and energy efficiency;
  • assess the impacts of EU regulatory framework (e.g. Renewable Energy Directive) on a sustainable water-energy-food nexus;
  • reduce institutional fragmentation whilst increase cross water, energy, food collaboration and inclusive multi-stakeholder engagement;
  • reduce the water risks for the energy sector and optimise market and trade solutions across the nexus;
  • strengthen EU role in international water issues, and become a leading actor on water diplomacy.