Op-Ed: Nexus Thinking is Key to Sustainable Development in the Era of Polycrisis
We are living in an era of a polycrisis: the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency and the Russian invasion of Ukraine continue to send shockwaves through Asia and the Pacific, disrupting global supply chains, depleting public finances and driving up energy and food prices. Our region’s poorest and most vulnerable populations are the most affected, threatening their economic, educational, employment and health outcomes. Traditional approaches to development are no longer enough.
If we examine the pressure points within the region’s food, finance and energy systems, we see opportunities that leverage their interconnections to build back resilience in these systems, so they can better support the people they serve.
Our joint ESCAP-ADB-UNDP 2023 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Partnership report sheds light on how countries in Asia and the Pacific have experienced the fragility of this ‘connected ecosystem’ firsthand. High energy prices, for example, have pushed up key input prices in agriculture, affecting a significant proportion of the regional workforce, adversely disrupting the region’s food production and supply chains and putting at risk the livelihoods of millions of people.
It is clear that the region’s economic sectors are not only highly susceptible to shocks but are also interdependent. When one sector is threatened, the entire system and countless livelihoods hang in the balance. Isolated, single-sector solutions are therefore inadequate. We need to embrace the concept of ‘nexus thinking’.
Nexus thinking recognizes the complex, systemic nature of global and local development issues and the need to integrate data and knowledge, plans and policies, institutions and practice, to achieve the SDGs. They are highly interrelated and thus, we need to address challenges at multiple levels, focusing on identifying synergies and breaking silos.
Nexus thinking is critical to developing more robust, coordinated and integrated solutions. By recognizing and studying the specific interconnections between energy, food and finance systems, we can develop policies and practices that address crosscutting challenges in an integrated manner. In an era marked by polycrisis, this approach – though not as easy to deliver - yields more effective and comprehensive policy responses that address both immediate needs and long-term goals. It is more able to achieve the impact needed to make significant change.
The Report identifies several countries in the region that have already taken successful strides towards implementing nexus thinking through solutions and good practice. Bangladesh, India, and the Philippines, for example, have embraced smart and low-carbon farming approaches, while Singapore has fostered a public-private partnership for the development of renewables. In Thailand and Pakistan, agritech companies are supporting small-scale farmers in access to finance. These initiatives stand out not only for their ability to introduce crosscutting solutions but also for their meaningful engagement of diverse stakeholders across sectors and constituencies.
Cross-sectoral public-private partnerships can serve as a valuable tool in nexus thinking as they allow for a broader perspective on the risk and opportunity landscape that goes well beyond one sector.
Regional and multilateral collaboration also play a pivotal role in nexus thinking. Stronger partnerships between countries are indispensable for safeguarding the resilience of our region’s food, energy and finance systems. Such collaborations remove barriers to cross-border trade; increase access to knowledge and technologies; and accelerate the just energy transition. Technical and financial support through multilateral platforms is also crucial for piloting and then replicating new policies and institutional arrangements, as well as scaling innovative solutions throughout the region.
We must recognize that emerging from a polycrisis requires these large-scale transformative approaches, if we are to get the SDGs back on track in Asia and the Pacific.
This is what ESCAP, ADB and UNDP strive to support through the Asia-Pacific SDG Partnership, and our approach is reflected in our 7th thematic report: ‘Delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals through Solutions at the Energy, Food and Finance Nexus.’ A side event at the High-Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development on July 18th 2023 will be hosted by the three partners. It will further explore how the nexus thinking approach can help governments from the Asia-Pacific region on their journey toward a sustainable and inclusive future.