PM+: Water and sanitation 'crucial elements' of EU circular economy

Written by Carl-Emil Larsen on 31 March 2015 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

Europe's water and sewerage services are in danger of being 'taken for granted' by policymakers, warns Carl-Emil Larsen.

You can't have a society underpinned by public health and prospects for growth without adequate water and sanitation. But unfortunately, in Europe right now, we risk sleepwalking towards a world with none of these things.

Today, the EU's water and sewerage providers have congregated in Brussels at the 'Water matters' conference to press all our leaders, whether political, industrial or financial, to put water matters at the heart of Europe's long-term strategic planning.

The sectors that drive our economy – from agriculture and energy production through to manufacturing and service industries such as tourism – all completely rely on water.

But water and sewerage services are under very major threat from the impact of mega-trends such as climate change, demographic change and land use change.

"The sectors that drive our economy – from agriculture and energy production through to manufacturing and service industries such as tourism – all completely rely on water"

If we don't act to meet these challenges, food and energy security, economic growth and jobs prospects will all be diminished. We would be left to survive in a world with scarce resources. This is a frightening prospect.

This is why we have gathered together today as members of EurEau, the association representing water supply and waste water services across Europe, to send policymakers a loud and clear message that 'water matters'.

And it is important to realise that I am talking about both public and private providers of water. The ownership and governance model does not matter. What matters is that EU citizens have access to water and sanitation. It matters that they have high quality water to drink as well as effective waste water services to minimise households' impact on the environment.

I used the term sleepwalking earlier on. This is because we are concerned that water and sewerage is simply being taken for granted.

The interconnection between water and growth, food and energy is not always accounted for in European policymaking. But we are working hard in partnership with EU decision-makers and stakeholders to create a joint way forward.

Europe is supposed to be moving towards a circular economy, in other words an economy where materials and products are recovered and reused, repaired, refurbished and recycled.

The European commission recently recognised through its communication on the circular economy, that our economies have developed a 'take-make-consume and dispose' pattern of growth since the industrial revolution. This pattern is neither efficient nor sustainable.

I want to emphasise that water is a crucial element of the circular economy and that it must be added to the scope of the commission's work.

Another of our calls today is for appropriate levels of water tariffs that cover the resource and operational costs of providing water services and that allow water companies to invest in operating, developing and maintaining infrastructure.

"The European commission recently recognised through its communication on the circular economy, that our economies have developed a 'take-make-consume and dispose' pattern of growth since the industrial revolution. This pattern is neither efficient nor sustainable"

Artificially low water prices not only lead to the depletion of water resources, but fail to secure investments in infrastructure maintenance, leaving a heavy burden of investment for future generations.

We have to invest today to prevent the problems of tomorrow. But we need to bring customers along this journey with us by explaining the challenges we face and informing them of the true costs of providing water services.

Costs are an important factor to stimulate incentives when it comes to consumers' behaviour and are also a driver for innovation in the water industry.

So looking forward, as a society we also need to protect our water resources better. This includes truly ensuring that 'polluter pays' and 'user pays' principles are widely applied in water management and water pricing policies, as unfortunately we do not believe this is always the case.

 

About the author

Carl-Emil Larsen is president of EurEau, the voice of Europe's drinking water and waste water service operators

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