2014 UN-Water Annual International Zaragoza Conference. Preparing for World Water Day 2014: Partnerships for improving water and energy access, efficiency and sustainability. 13-16 January 2014

Interviewing Shaoyi Li, UNEP

Shaoyi Li is Head of the Integrated Resource Management Unit, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Shaoyi Li "The idea of the W&E nexus might seem new to many people but in reality it has been in existence for years. It is only recently that the international agenda is dealing with the issue".

What are your expectations on the Zaragoza Conference on partnership for improving Water and Energy (W&E) efficiency and sustainability?
More and more people are realizing that the water and energy (W&E) nexus is critical to the environment, economic development and social progress. So far the debate has been on a general level: more energy could mean more water available; energy shortage exacerbates water scarcity. I hope one outcome of this conference is to provide an in-depth knowledge and articulate the relationship and dynamic between these two key resources and find out best ways to manage and improve.

Why is the water-energy nexus and important issue for UNEP?
Sustainable development has three (3) pillars: economic, social and environment and UNEP embraces the integration of these pillars. UNEP seeks to foremost mainstream the environment issues into sustainable development. Water and energy issues are relevant to all the three pillars. If you waste water and energy, it impedes economic activities, causes pollution and deterioration of ecosystems, and emits more greenhouse gases (GHG). For such and other reasons, UNEP wants to look at the W&E nexus holistically since it is at the root of most sustainability problems. Also if we handle the nexus issue well, it can provide multiple benefits. UNEP wants to turn the nexus crises into nexus opportunities.

What measures do you suggest to improve partnerships or collaboration of industries and other actors in dealing with the water and energy nexus?
The idea of the W&E nexus might seem new to many people but in reality it has been in existence for years. It is only recently that the international agenda is dealing with the issue. Some industries are managing the resources very well and attaining co-benefits from the nexus whilst others are poorly managing water and energy resources creating more wastage. For such reasons in the meeting in Zaragoza, we need to take a critical look at the reality in terms of the practices being employed in management of these key resources and address the challenges through partnerships. It is important to get better understanding on how partners such as industries and governments and civil society organizations can best work together in improving the production and consumption of water and energy. That is why the theme for the conference is of great interest. We really need to identify ways and means for improvement rather than just remain at the conceptual stage.

What steps are taken by UNEP to create more awareness about the water-related risks from energy generation to governments and energy industries?
We have different perspectives that can help create awareness and improve practices on the W&E nexus. Firstly, we have a strong background in science and technology study and therefore we analyze scientifically (physically, chemically and environmentally) what this nexus analysis imply. For instance, people may consider that to produce more energy then you need more water. But the key question is under what conditions do you quantify this “needs”, or with what parameter, what technical or scientific concepts and methods are used? UNEP hosts the International Resources Panel which has been looking into such issues in line with awareness creation and policy options development. Secondly, UNEP has been working in partnership with industries and business sectors. UNEP has a business programme that promotes Eco-Innovation and where water and energy use is being incorporated. Thirdly UNEP again is spearheading the Green Economy that advance technical and institutional transformation by sectors, and across-sectors, which also has the W&E nexus incorporated. Lastly but certainly not the least is Water and Sanitation and energy which are in the core of the work of UNEP. We are seeing how to adopt the best models to meet the MDGs on water and sanitation.