Water-energy “nexus” approach is key to renewable energy transition and managing climate vulnerability: the case of the Drina River Basin

In the Drina River Basin, shared mainly by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, working together across borders and jointly addressing water and energy challenges is a key part of effective climate action and the green transition.

As part of the Sarajevo Energy and Climate Week (25-29 September 2023), UNECE and partners joined discussions looking at renewable energy development in the Drina River Basin. In a session convened by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and Finland, experts explored the findings of the Drina Nexus Assessment carried out under the Water Convention, which included an analysis of the water-energy system of the basin, and an investigation of possible options to formalize flow regulation.

Panelists – including from International Sava River Basin Commission and hydropower operators – discussed the relevance of these findings for fostering discussions on climate action, and identifying opportunities for collaboration, both within the basin and beyond. This allowed an exchange of views on possible directions and concrete immediate activities to strengthen the cooperation among riparian countries for more climate-resilient renewable energy development and, overall, to promote sustainable development in the basin.

The interventions illustrated the importance of the nexus approach and sustainable renewable energy development for the green energy transition and the Sofia Declaration adopted at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in 2018, and more broadly to climate goals and adaptation. Renewable energy plans in the Drina basin are key for the decarbonization commitments of the riparians, but at the same time there are trade-offs related to them, particularly when it comes to further development of hydro and given the uncertainties about the future climate outlook. The modelling presented from the Nexus Assessment shows different water flows depending on future climate projections and assumptions, which implies risks for hydropower development and makes the need for transboundary coordination even more pressing.

Higher resolution modelling and analysis is therefore needed,as well as informed adaptation measures and coordinated investments, calling for a joint climate initiative. Experience from Finland shared during the dialogue demonstrated that hydropower generation benefits from information exchange and the use of hydrological data to adapt, mitigate risks and optimize production.

UNECE Deputy Executive Secretary, Mr. Dmitry Mariyasin, stressed the urgency to “water-proof” the energy sector, along with plans and strategies for the clean energy transition which should be smarter in the face of climate change, and safe in the face of disasters and extreme events such as floods, and droughts. He stressed that water infrastructure is a key element for both climate mitigation and adaptation: according to global data from WMO, 87% of the electricity generated today comes from thermal, nuclear and hydro systems that directly depend on water availability, while 33% of the thermal power plants that rely on freshwater availability for cooling are in high water stress areas. He further highlighted that transboundary basins like the Drina account for 60% of freshwater worldwide. In these basins, water infrastructure and hydropower can either play a unifying role, or a divisive one, thereby accelerating or slowing down regional cooperation, and in turn global mitigation efforts.

Such cooperation in the Drina basin also draws on the multi-stakeholder renewable energy investment “Hard Talk” dialogues held by UNECE in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2018 and Serbia in 2019 and 2021. These sessions convened policymakers to deliberate on the challenges and opportunities related to the deployment and expansion of renewable energy. A key focus was on the intricate dynamics of water, the environment, and transboundary cooperation in the Drina River Basin.

UN Resident Coordinator in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ms. Ingrid Macdonald, highlighted the cross-sectoral work done on the Drina as a case of collective action to progress towards sustainability, underlining the importance of such transboundary initiatives, and the United Nations’ commitment to support these. She further noted financing as a key challenge, reflecting on how accessing public and private financing and green financing could best be supported and the importance of focusing on women as agents of change in this process.

The cumulative efforts invested in these initiatives led to a significant milestone in 2021—the development of the Drina Nexus Roadmap, designed to facilitate coordinated multi-sectoral planning within the basin. Its overarching goal is to steer different sectoral activities towards the implementation of strategic plans, most notably the Green Action Plan for the Western Balkans. This aims to catalyze actions and investments that offer multiple benefits, promote synergy, and ultimately enhance sustainability. Representatives from Drina basin countries, spanning three sectors, recognized the value of the Nexus Roadmap as a guiding document to inform both national and transboundary level planning.

This collaborative effort will help to foster sustainable energy and water management practices in the basin. By bringing together key stakeholders and experts, UNECE, in partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina and its riparian countries, in cooperation with UN Country Teams, and in cooperation with Finland, is committed to promoting renewable energy development in the region, enhancing cooperation, and aligning actions with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Repost: UNECE