A report from the UN Water Zaragoza conference

Water demand could exceed 44% of annual resources available in 2050 and energy demand could increase by 50% within the same period.

“Water and Energy” was the topic at the “Water for Life” conference, held on January 16, 2014 in the city of Zaragoza (Spain). The conference was organized by the United Nations and the Ebro River Basin Organization as a pre-activity for the 2014 World Water Day celebrations.

Conference participants came from a wide variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise, and all agreed that water and energy are highly concerning issues needing to be addressed. It was recognised that these are global issues; as the availability of water and energy resources are constrained in both developing and developed countries. Likewise, it was acknowledged that the proper management of water and energy resources can generate multiple benefits and savings in terms of resources conservation, maintenance of ecosystem services and sustainable development. The conference provided a highly valuable opportunity for all participants to share their work and experiences with each other. It has established and strengthened partnerships between participants that will hopefully contribute to improved “water and energy” sustainability in the medium and long term. The conference also served as a platform for presenting technological innovations in the areas of dry and hybrid cooling for power generation, as well as the use of renewable energy in water management.

Various topics related to the theme “Water and Energy nexus” were discussed during conference sessions. The difficulties encountered in coordinating the sometimes competing activities of water and energy operators was one key topic of discussion. Likewise, improving the coordination between local authorities and stakeholders at regional levels was presented as a strategy to significantly reduce any potential negative impacts on economic and social welfare.

Informing the dialogue were projections of rising water and energy consumption against existing resource bases. These helped to illustrate many of the important aspects of the Water and Energy Nexus. It is estimated that annual water demands may exceed their available resources by 44% in 2050 and energy demands could increase by 50% within the same period. As the provision of water and energy supplies are mutually dependent, it was recognised that there need to be comprehensive policies taking into account the interdependence between both resources. That is, it is not possible to supply energy without access to water, nor to ensure water supply without energy. For example, water plays a crucial role in the production of hydropower. Likewise, energy is necessary for the supply and treatment of water in both rural and urban contexts, and accounts for 30% of water utility operating costs. As was noted by a representative from the private sector, “without energy you cannot do anything when it comes to water management.” Energy and water security go hand in hand.

However, the unequal relationship between the water and energy sectors was also recognised as an impediment to building effective partnerships between the two. Each sector uses different language and concepts that inhibit effective communication and the emergence of mutual understanding between them. Nevertheless, sector integration and cooperation are goals that must be pursued. “Partnerships are a distance race, not a sprint,” remarked Josefina Maestu, director of the UN Office to Support the International Decade for Action “Water for Life” 2005-2015.  “In today’s world, cooperation and partnerships are a necessity we can not ignore.”  Events such as this conference are important in breaking down barriers to cooperation and establishing dialogue between the water and energy sectors. Indeed, Adrian Puigarnau, Program Manager at SIWI, recognized the fundamental importance and merit of the United Nations Conference in Zaragoza in meeting many of the challenges relating to the Water and Energy Nexus.

The conference also recognised the importance of engaging young people to address Water and Energy Nexus challenges. Young people need to be encouraged to actively participate in these discussions, so that they may contribute suggestions for new innovative concepts and approaches. In recognition, Ana Delgado, representative of the World Bank, said there are already many programs fostering youth participation as: Youth to Youth Program, GPE Program, Young Professional Program, and other volunteering activities and conferences. Likewise, Mark Smith, Director of the IUCN Global Water Programme, noted that youth are often called upon to build partnerships and create solutions. Above all, participants all agreed that working together is the essential condition to succeed in the water and energy challenge.