The goal of the Dresden Nexus Conference (DNC), since its inception in 2015, is to create dialogue on nexus thinking that fosters research and capacity development activities in the sustainable and integrated management of water, soil, and waste. Water and soil play prominent roles as critical environmental resources in our societies and supply chains; the availability and quality of these resources are increasingly threatened by rapid urbanisation and modern lifestyles. The addition of waste as a resource makes DNC unique among other recent nexus discussions.
Furthering nexus thinking requires looking in-depth not only at the sciences, but also at the science-policy interface, implementation, monitoring, and real-world cases. This requires modelling at various spatio-temporal scales, applying management strategies under different governance contexts, and dealing with the trade-offs between ecosystem functions and services to integrate the role of institutions in policy and decision making. To accomplish all the above, DNC brings together scientific experts and practicioners as well as decision- and policymakers from different fields and various organisations including universities, United Nations (UN) agencies, governmental ministries, the private sector, and civil society from around the world. There was a clear consensus among those who attended DNC2015 and DNC2017 that nexus thinking could play a pivotal role in maximising the efficient use of environmental resources - especially under the conditions of global change.
The third DNC is planned to take place in June 2020 under the theme “Circular Economy in a Sustainable Society”. With this theme, DNC2020 envisions to promote the resource perspective of waste in a circular economy with an emphasis on the social dimension. It is interesting to note that both nexus and circular economy concepts were born in the 1980s. However, the correlation of the two concepts was not noticed until nexus thinking began to incorporate the role of waste in the past few years.
In its underlying objective to create systems and products that enable longer lifespans, optimal use, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling, circular economy captures the importance of waste minimisation and utilisation. It is also important to understand that the optimal utilisation of materials promoted in circular economy mimics cycling in natural ecosystems. The concept of waste does not exist in a natural ecosystem, as ‘waste’ is always transformed by nature into nutrients and soil organic matter for subsequent uptake. These natural transformation mechanisms are complex, but they could guide us to find more sustainable solutions for recovery, recycling, and reuse. The key to the sustainable management the modern-day waste may very well depend on the depth of our understanding of these natural transformation processes, with the help of the advances in sciences and technology.
We generate waste during the production, processing, and consumption of other resources; waste produced by one resource sector could become a raw material for another resource sector. One example is wastewater, which is already used to irrigate over 20 million hectares of agricultural land in water-stressed areas around the world. Another example is phosphorus recycling from various sources including wastewater. A not less significant example is applying solid waste-derived compost or other bio-based materials (e.g., sewage sludge, biochar, plant ashes) to soils for improving both the amounts and quality of soil organic matter. These types of interventions support not only food production but also hydrological ecosystem services (i.e. drinking water purification, water retention), biodiversity and climate change adaptation, and demonstrates how waste forms a positive link with water resources management as well as food production. Waste also plays the role of a raw material for energy production in the waste-to-energy and biogas plants around the world.
However, we still have many unanswered questions that may inhibit the circular economy concept reaching a wider audience. One frequently asked question is whether the concept can be extended to cover the whole economy - especially when we are still socially and economically divided - as the Global North and the Global South. While the socio-economic aspect and technologies might be different from North to South, most resource streams in the current economy do not necessarily follow the same boundaries and often extend to a global or at least to a regional level. Another important question refers to the capacities of current establishments to absorb the new concept: are we able to accommodate the circular economy concept within the existing institutional and governance structures? If not, what changes should we consider and how do we execute them? These questions go certainly beyond science and technology and clearly remind us about the extensive changes that we need to make in our own thinking to transition from a linear to a circular model.
By considering the maximisation of synergies, minimisation of trade-offs, and enhancement of resource use efficiency, there could be a lot that nexus thinking can offer to solve some of the above issues and hence, accelerate the transition towards a circular economy. In this context, DNC2020 intends to find answers to the following overarching question:
Which suitable concepts does nexus thinking offer to support the transition towards a circular economy?
The concept of circular economy has gained global attention and many UN Member States view it as a mechanism to support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this respect, DNC2020 could be instrumental in helping Member States achieve the SDGs. Therefore, while answering the above question, DNC2020 will place an emphasis on how the Nexus Approach to water, soil, and waste in the context of a circular economy can help achieve the SDGs. DNC2020 will directly address, among others, Goal 2 (Zero hunger), Goal 6 (Clean water and sanitation), Goal 7 (Affordable and clean energy), Goal 11 (Sustainable cities and communities), Goal 12 (Responsible consumption and production), and Goal 13 (Climate action).
|The Dresden Nexus Conference (DNC) series is dedicated to advancing a Nexus Approach to natural resource management. DNC is organised by the United Nations University (UNU-FLORES), the Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden), and the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IOER).|