EU needs to embrace green economy on water management

Written by Hans Bruyninckx on 27 March 2015 in Feature
Feature

Despite some 'modest' improvements, Europe is still far from attaining the sustainable management of its water resources, argues Hans Bruyninckx.

We need water to grow food, produce energy, manufacture goods, use in our homes, and to keep the natural environment healthy.

The impact of climate change might mean water stress and droughts in some areas, and floods in others. It is not always easy to decide how and where to use this precious and limited resource which in several ways is already under serious strain across many parts of Europe.

To protect water quality and to ensure the sustainable management of water resources, the European Union has put in place a comprehensive and ambitious legislative package centred on the water framework directive, which requires EU member states to achieve ‘good ecological status’ in their inland water bodies by 2015.

Our latest assessments clearly indicate that despite modest improvements in recent years, we are still far from reaching our objective. The results from the first river basin management plans, reported in 2010, showed that only 43 per cent of surface water bodies were in good or high ecological status.

Additionally, only 53 per cent of the water bodies were expected to reach good ecological status by this year.

"The results from the first river basin management plans, reported in 2010, showed that only 43 per cent of surface water bodies were in good or high ecological status"

This modest status was mainly due to pollution by point and diffuse sources, morphological changes to the water ecosystems, over-abstraction, and hydrological changes affecting water flow.

To achieve good status by 2015, or at least by 2021, EU member states will have to address the pressures affecting water bodies.

The water framework directive provides a solid basis for improving Europe’s freshwaters. Nevertheless, a considerable gap still exists between existing and planned measures, and those actually needed to achieve the directive's objectives.

"Europe needs to embrace and treat these changes as opportunities for new investments in water technology, water supply and treatment and for innovative approaches implementing green economy principles"

Our ability to bridge this gap is closely linked to our long-term sustainability objectives. The EU defined these in its seventh environment action programme, namely ‘living well within the limits of our planet’, which can be achieved through ‘greening’ our entire economy.

In the water sector, this requires a better integration into other sectors such as agriculture (food systems), hydropower (energy systems) and navigation (transport systems).

The green economy in this context means systemic changes in water management – more concretely, moving towards more nature-based solutions.

Europe needs to embrace and treat these changes as opportunities for new investments in water technology, water supply and treatment and for innovative approaches implementing green economy principles.

About the author

Hans Bruyninckx is executive director of the European Environment Agency (EEA) and was a panellist on the issue of 'water policy in the context of green and blue growth' at the fourth European water conference held in Brussels on 23-24 March 2015

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