Coordinating assessment of water, energy and agricultural needs among riparians is key to sustainable development in the Sava River Basin

 Press release

For all the countries sharing the Sava River Basin (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia), hydropower is a major source of energy, sometimes the main source (i.e., in Montenegro and in Croatia). Collectively, hydropower in from the Sava River constitutes 11% of the total power generation capacity of these countries. Water is also an important resource for other power installations, including cooling thermoelectric power plants, with 53% of all power installations in the Basin relying on water from the Sava River. To meet the long-term renewable energy targets set by the European Union (i.e., for Croatia and Slovenia) or the Energy Community (the other riparian countries are Contracting Parties) also requires these countries to depend heavily on the Basin’s water resources. Key to achieving climate change mitigation targets in the region are hydropower investments in the Sava Basin are expected to account for 43% of carbon dioxide reductions in the riparian countries by 2030. Despite the importance of energy security for most of these countries, development planning for the energy sector is not necessarily connected with water management planning, which also has to ensure necessary water for agriculture and other water uses. This calls for increased coordination, information sharing and transboundary cooperation.

More intense transboundary cooperation on the management of basin resources will bring additional real benefits. For example, the different energy generation and storage capacities make up valuable complementarities that can add to the energy security for all the riparian countries. Looking into the future, approximately 200 MW of hydropower generation are expected to be built in the region with reservoirs, representing a concrete opportunity: by coordinating between the countries, investments can be rationalized and the utility to be had from the water maximized. In particular, adopting designs that are multifunctional and minimize impacts on the environment would allow future reservoirs to better serve different needs, including flood control.

International coordination and cooperation at the basin and regional levels offer opportunities to manage the water-food-energy-ecosystems nexus beyond what is possible at the national level. The countries sharing the Sava Basin are well positioned to advance their transboundary cooperation: International Sava River Basin Commission (ISRBC) is already in place as a multisectoral platform for this. A transboundary nexus approach can be built on existing processes. The opportunities include the development and implementation of legal instruments, in particular the Framework Agreement on the Sava River Basin and its protocols, but also EU directives, and transboundary planning processes such as the Sava River Basin Management Plan and the Flood Risk Management Plan, and further regional integration and harmonization, in particular around EU accession and approximation.

These are some of the main findings of a new report released today by UNECE — Reconciling Resource Uses in Transboundary Basins: Assessment of the Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystems Nexus in the Sava River Basin. The report with its recommendations is the result of a participatory assessment process carried out in cooperation with ISRBC in the framework of the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes.