Freshwater ecosystems are experiencing the highest decline’s rate – according to the new OECD Report
Nature underpins all economic activities and human well-being. It is the world’s most important asset. Yet humanity is destroying biodiversity at an unprecedented rate, posing significant but often overlooked risks to the economy, the financial sector and the well-being of current and future generations.
The latest report published by OECD provides the latest findings and policy guidance for G7 and other countries in four key areas:
- Measuring and mainstreaming biodiversity;
- Aligning budgetary and fiscal policy with biodiversity
- Embedding biodiversity in the financial sector;
- Improving biodiversity outcomes linked to international trade.
The report shows how Finance, Economic and Environment Ministries can drive the transformative changes required to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity. This Policy Paper was prepared as an input document for the United Kingdom Presidency of the G7 in 2021. The report highlighted important water-related facts:
– Biodiversity underpins all economic activities and human well-being. It provides critical life-supporting ecosystem services, including the provision of food and clean water, but also largely invisible services such as flood protection, nutrient cycling, water filtration and pollination.
– Marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems are being pushed closer to thresholds and tipping points as a result of the increasing intensity of pressures, and their combined and often synergistic effects
– Freshwater ecosystems are experiencing some of the highest rates of decline, with 0.8% of wetlands being lost per year from 1970 to 2008 (IPBES, 2019).
– An analysis of options for improving water quality in Portland, United States, found that green infrastructure would be 51-76% cheaper (USD 68-72 million cheaper) than water-filtration plant upgrades and would bring co-benefits (e.g. salmon habitat and carbon sequestration), estimated conservatively at USD 72-125 million (Talberth et al., 2012)
– In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed technical assistance for local governments on how to design, promote and implement NbS for effective stormwater management. In addition, The US Army Corps of Engineers has streamlined the permitting process for living shorelines to incentivise NbS and correct for the comparative advantage held by hard infrastructure projects of shorter permitting times.
– France has committed EUR 250 million (USD 276 million) for 2021-2022 to support biodiversity, including projects to restore terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, strengthen protected areas and promote coastal protection in the face of climate change (Government of France, 2020).
– The fashion industry is responsible for 20% of global wastewater (WEF, 2020) (UNECE, 2018).
To learn more, read the full report here.Read More
Water purification is the ecosystem service with the highest aggregated value – new report on ecosystem services in the EU
Ecosystems contribute essential services to the economy and society. The latest EU report “Accounting for ecosystems and their services in the European Union” unravels the benefits that forests, rivers, grasslands, wetlands and other ecosystems provide. It shows how restoring degraded ecosystems has the potential to double nature’s contribution to the EU economy and society.
Based on 2012 data, EU’s ecosystems generated an annual flow of selected seven ecosystem services at the value of € 172 billion. Forests delivered almost half of this supply. In 2019, the economic value provided by a wider set of ecosystem services in the EU amounted to € 234 billion. Water purification is the ecosystem service with the highest aggregated value, followed by nature-based recreation.
Despite the crucial role of ecosystems for our economy and society, there is no established and regular measurement of ecosystem condition or of the number of services they supply.
The EU INCA project aims to close that gap by delivering an integrated system of ecosystem accounts for the EU. The report summarises the key results of this project, showing practical examples of possible uses of ecosystem services accounts and existing policy applications. It allows scientists, statisticians and policymakers to learn how ecosystems and their services support our society, what changes in ecosystems and ecosystem services took place in the EU in the past couple of decades and how all this can be measured in a standardised and comparable way.
The Commission is going to propose the revision of the Regulation on European Environmental Economic Accounts (EEEA) to expand its coverage to include a new module on natural capital accounting, fully consistent with the UN framework.
This is in line with the recommendation of the European Court of Auditors and the recent mid-term review of the European Strategy for environmental accounts (ESEA) 2019-2023. The EU could then become the global front-runner as being the first continent in the world to report on changes in ecosystems and their services.Read More
Right now, one of the most important topics on the political agenda is climate change and the green transition. By 2030 the emission of CO2 must be reduced by at least 55 percent. This means that everyone must put in an effort within their specific sector or household.
Luckily, we have already got a lot of great tools and solutions to our problems. Just think of technologies such as wind turbines and electric vehicles. But there is also a huge potential in our water.
The water sector in the EU occupies two to three percent of our total electricity consumption. It may not sound as much, but it is. Just to give you an example, it is about the same amount of electricity that an electric car needs to drive 38 million times in a straight line around the globe or take two million return trips to the Moon. These numbers speak their own language.
The potential for energy efficiencies in the water sector is roughly 25 percent. That equates to being able to save 9.5 million trips around the globe in an average electric car. Or almost 20 million tonnes of CO2.
It is quite clear that the potential is huge. And when I talk to experts and stakeholders it is also quite clear that the technologies are already there. The problem is that the market is simply not there yet. That is why it is extremely important that we in the European Parliament are willing to push for a stronger framework which enables a free and ever innovative ecosystem of the market flow.
We have to be more ambitious when it comes to the energy and decarbonization potentials of the water circular economy. This must be a central part of the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) which is set to be revised later this year. Just as I welcome that the Commission’s expected proposal for a revision of the Urban Wastewater Directive in Q1 2022 will be filled with specific and useful proposals.
However, I may well be worried. Because when we look at the Commission’s just announced proposal for the Zero Pollution Action Plan, which was announced last week, there is virtually nothing about water. That really do not make sense!
Energy efficiency of the water sector’s electricity consumption is thus not a drop in the ocean. I hope we remember it going forward in the green transition, also of our water sector. Maybe water is still not running as a flood into all EU legislations – but the potentials are huge and we cannot deliver a greener and cleaner for the future, if these are not taken on board.Read More
Report on the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030: an opportunity for Water and Biodiversity Conservation
On 27 and 28 May 2021, the ENVI Committee of the European Parliament adopted its position on the “EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030: Bringing nature back into our lives”. The Parliament is scheduled to vote on this resolution at its next plenary session on 7-10 June.
In the report, MEPs welcome the ambition in the EU Biodiversity Strategy to ensure that by 2050 the world’s ecosystems are restored, resilient, and adequately protected but stress the need for concrete actions and ambitious legislative proposals. These include a new European Biodiversity law which steers a path to 2050 through a set of binding objectives and which establishes a monitoring mechanism with smart indicators.
MEPs also reiterate their call for a restoration target of at least 30% of the EU’s land and seas as part of the EU Nature Restoration Plan and support the set-up of binding targets on urban biodiversity, nature-based solutions and green infrastructure.
In addition, they call on the Commission and the Member States to ensure that the objectives of the strategy are fully reflected in the Zero Pollution Action Plan. This Action Plan was adopted by the European Commission on the 12th of May 2021 and provides a compass for including water pollution prevention in all relevant EU policies.
Water Europe is glad to contribute to this debate with its two position papers ‘Biodiversity Strategy: shared challenges for water and biodiversity conservation’ and ‘Zero Pollution Action Plan: A First Step towards a Water-Smart Society’.
For more information on Water Europe’s position on the Biodiversity Strategy please download the full position paper here.
Water Europe’s position paper on the Zero Pollution Action Plan can be seen here.
Draft report and amendments on the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 can be seen hereRead More
SMARTEN is an Erasmus+ project that supports current efforts towards digital transition and digital readiness, mainly in higher education and trainings. The two-year project focuses on water as a vital component of life and development, that benefits from informed management of resources and related information. Improvements are seen through promoting an educational digital environment of equity, diversity and inclusion, as well as strengthening the strategic and virtual cooperation between higher education institutions and business partners in the European water sector.
Now more than a year into the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, people depended increasingly on virtual platforms for business and social interaction. Such new norms have pressured an acceleration of efforts in the EU towards digital transition and digital readiness. These transitions cover numerous sectors, including water education.
SMARTEN is a collaboration of the following partners: Norges Milio-og Biovitenskaplige Universitet (Norway – coordinator), Univerzitet U Nisu (Serbia), Panepistimio Thessalias (Greece) and H2O-People / European Junior Water Programme (The Netherlands), and Water Europe as associated partner.
This project proposes innovative practices based on serious games in education, while addressing the subject-specific of water in line with European environmental and climate goals. The serious games concept has proved its efficiency in the educational sector, mainly in the engineering domain.
SMARTEN aims to impact the higher education on water:
✔ Leading to a better use of digital technology, not only in teaching and learning of water subjects, but also in improving education through better data analysis and foresight
✔ Developing skills and competencies necessary to support the digitalization of water education
✔ Supporting a growing generation of water professionals who are leading the digital transformation of the water sector
On the 18th of March 2021, the project was publicly launched during the Water Knowledge Europe 2021 Spring Edition event to connect the project not only with education, also with the industry. Stay tuned to many future activities by SMARTEN!Read More
Climate change and economic or population growth – those factors create challenges to the water sector in coastal areas and beyond. Water scarcity and increasing water demand result in the overexploitation of resources, quality deterioration and regional imbalances in the availability of water resources.
To tackle these challenges, the European research project ‘building a water-smart society and economy’, short B-WaterSmart, develops and demonstrates smart technologies and circular economy approaches for the water sector. The research in the project is based on the work of six demonstration sites, called Living Labs, all across Europe. Together with research partners and local technology providers they develop and test water-smart management solutions and technologies.
🟩 The Living Lab from Alicante in Spain currently evaluates technologies for reverse osmosis brines valorisation at lab-scale. They also plan demonstration units, have first meetings for the identification of co-digestion opportunities in the territory and work on the conceptualization of a digital tool to boost water reuse.
🟩 The Living Lab in Bodo, Norway focuses on zero emission urban development and improved management of the wastewater stream and air quality.
🟩 East Frisia in Germany is building a pilot plant for the reuse of process water in the dairy industry. Furthermore, digital tools for short term water demand and a regional water allocation tool are conceptualized.
🟩 The Flanders Living Lab in Belgium is designing two demonstration sites. One is about stormwater management and the use of a storage water buffer basin for agriculture. The other one is about potential effluent reuse, including water quality and purification requirements.
🟩 Lisbon in Portugal is preparing pilot plants for water reclamation for beer production, non-potable urban water reuse including a risk assessment for health and groundwater, and water-energy certificates for buildings and neighbourhoods. Lisbon also started seminars to integrate the B-WaterSmart work in the partner’s long term strategies/activities and foster synergies between them.
🟩The Living Lab Venice in Italy is mainly working on the pilot plants for industrial water reuse from wastewater treatment plant effluent and nutrient recovery via two stripping processes and anaerobic co-digestion.
In order to implement those solutions strongly in the practice of the water sector, technical and digital solutions, as well as new business models, are jointly developed by all project partners. The overall aim is to accelerate the transformation to water-smart economies and societies in coastal Europe and beyond by reducing the use of freshwater resources, improving the recovery and reuse of resources, and increase water use efficiency.Read More
A New Industrial Emissions Directive: Mastering water efficiency and reuse challenges New Water Europe Position Paper
On the 23rd of March, the European Commission closed its public consultation on the revision of the Industrial Emissions Directive. Water Europe is glad to contribute to this discussion with the release of its new position paper ‘A New Industrial Emissions Directive: Mastering water efficiency and reuse challenges’.
The Industrial Emission Directive has proven its added value with the industrial emissions being decreased over the past decade in Europe. However, it is now time to focus on pollution reduction to water and soil and improve water efficiency. Therefore, Water Europe welcomes the initiative of the European Commission to update this directive which will contribute to securing European competitiveness, improving our environmental legacy for future generations and strengthening European strategic autonomy.
In this context and in order to achieve a Water-Smart Society, Water Europe suggests the following objectives:
- Leveraging water-related standards in each BREF
- Setting-up horizontal BREF on water efficiency
- Including mandatory systems assessment for water usage
- Incentivizing industrial water efficiency, cascading and reuse water through subsidies
- Deploying digital water solutions for water-energy efficiencies and the decarbonization of European industry
Examples of Water-Smart practices for a New Industrial Emissions Directive are already available:
- The ZeroBrine project– which aims to prove that minerals, such as magnesium and clean water, can be recovered from industrial processes to then be reused in other industries – intends to contribute to the improvement of the LVIC-S BREF (Large volume inorganic chemicals – solids and other industry), the TXT BREF (Textile Industry) and the WT BREF (Waste Treatment).
- The Rewatch project – which aims at decreasing the environmental footprint of the petrochemical industry – addresses the REF BREF (Refining of Mineral Oil and Gas) and the CWW BREF (Common Wastewater and Waste Gas Treatment/management Systems in the chemical sector).
In addition, the two projects consider the option of a horizontal BREF on water efficiency.
For more information please download the full position paper here.Read More
After your election as the Vice-President for Innovation, could you tell us a few words on how you see this new role?
In the new composition, the Board has a division of tasks between a number of vice presidents. I see it as my task to carry out my activities mainly in synergy with the Vice Presidents of Advocacy and RTD. Our VP Advocacy focuses mainly on policy making and legislation, and the VP RTD on everything that takes place in the world of research and development. My role is to work with our members on the implementation of what we want, a water-smart policy and what we can technically achieve. Of course, we have to think carefully about how we are going to do that. We have decided to develop the instrument of a WELL; a Water Europe Living Lab. Together with our top-down approach to policy and legislation, it should help to shape bottom up a Water-Smart society together with the citizens of Europe. We will try to do this in Europe, together with parties outside Europe and with the use of digital means to get as close as possible to the citizens of Europe.
What are your Water Europe priorities and what activities you plan for their implementation?
My priorities concern three aspects. In the first place, I want to dedicate myself to developing the WELL as an instrument for the successful implementation of innovative water technologies. A WELL can serve as a practical example for a Water-Smart Society and help to get water even higher on the political agenda. In addition, a WELL could profile our members as standard bearers of a Water-Smart Europe. We want to do this with a number of innovative partners in Europe who are involved in water-smart solutions in cities, rural areas or in the field of industrial symbiosis. We also want to try to use the instrument when entering into relationships with countries or regions outside Europe. With our so-called International Water Dialogue, the IWD, we opt for neighboring regions such as North Africa, commercially important markets and are looking for examples in which the SDGs of the UN have been exemplified. Finally, we thought it would be a good idea to start shaping these priorities from a digital perspective.
How can the Water-Oriented Living Labs contribute to the achievement of the Water-Smart Society?
There is still a gap between what we know and can technically do on the one hand and what we achieve in society. This has everything to do with the time it takes to convert policy into practical measures and bringing technical innovations to the market. Water Europe is committed to properly informing policy-makers about what is technically possible to use water sensibly. That is the way we point to a Water-Smart society. The knowledge and expertise that our members bring to this dialogue are of crucial importance; show that a Water-smart society is feasible. At the same time, we want to show policymakers that the road to realization does not have to be long. We want to demonstrate this with a number of WELL initiatives in rural areas, the urban environment and through examples of industrial symbiosis. To this end, we are going to look for parties that want to team up with Water Europe for a number of years with that aim. With this, we want to develop a WELL as a WE brand that stands for a successful, bottom-up implementation of innovative water technology.
What are the International Water Dialogues and how do you foresee the European water sector strengthening its relationship and collaboration with other strategic regions?
We can be proud of what Europe is doing in the field of water. But sharing that knowledge with the rest of the world, both in terms of policy, but especially also in the technological field, should be even better. This is about supporting our water technology companies, but also about sharing the successes from practice.
With the IWDs, we aim to share the way in which the implementation of successful water technology takes place in a WELL. We want to promote partnerships between groups of institutions and individuals that work together for a Water-Smart society. This can only succeed if we ensure that a WELL can also form a business case for our members. After all, participating in a WELL activity must be affordable at the very least. I think that the Horizon Europe programme can make it attractive for our members to contribute to shaping a WELL. I would therefore like to make sure that WELLS become a success factor in the upcoming Horizon Europe programme.
For those who do not yet know the city, could you please introduce Mechelen?
With 87.000 inhabitants, Mechelen is one of the 13 large Flemish cities and is a regional hub for education, culture, shopping, jobs etc. Mechelen is one of the 5 art cities in Flanders and has a lot of historical patrimony. The more than 300 historical buildings and 3 UNESCO heritage sites attract a lot of tourists. The city has strong urban characteristics and a vivid city centre but also a rural hinterland. Its central and accessible position, but also its compact size makes it attractive for entrepreneurship and an ideal testbed for innovation.
Why does a mid-sized city become member of Water Europe?
Mechelen has a long history as a central city in Northern Europe. The city has evolved around the river Dyle and was built on wetlands. Water management has always been a preoccupation since the first pile dwellings in the 5th century BC. The city faced a strong revival in the last decade, leading to a growing economy, population and popularity. This was partially due to major investments by the city in the last decade. But at the same time in the last decade, cities have also gained a stronger responsibility in climate policy. The climate plan of Mechelen is the driver for a better future in domains such as mobility, green and blue infrastructure, agriculture, energy efficiency, the production of renewable energy and water management.
Could you please tell us about the specific challenges the city faces?
Climate change creates challenges and opportunities for Mechelen. In an urban context, a high degree of pavement is no surprise. In Mechelen we see that almost 24% of the public domain is paved, remarkably high compared to the Flemish average (which is around 14%). Action is needed and Mechelen has taken strong initiatives, as climate change is causing us to see the increasing intensity of rain showers on the one hand and a growing number of dry periods on the other. It is therefore important to invest as much as possible on measures that combat drought and avoid flooding.
To this end, the City of Mechelen has had a rainwater plan drawn up for its entire territory. In this plan a vision is developed to determine the most suitable measure for each location: customised solutions are necessary. After all, the historic city center with many shops and narrow streets requires a different approach than the paved industrial areas with wide roads and parking options. The ideal solution in the urbanized residential areas of Mechelen are different from our rural hinterland with large green spaces and a focus on agricultural activities.
The focus on depavement is crucial here. Both in the public domain and in the private domain, plans are being made to allow rainwater to infiltrate as much as possible, as this ensures that groundwater is replenished as much as possible. Innovative projects also make it possible to store rainwater locally and aim at (collectively) reusing it as high-quality drinking water or pumping up groundwater for sub-irrigation in agriculture. In the reconstruction of neighbourhoods and streets, efforts will also be made to disconnect rainwater from the sewerage system. Where possible, the rainwater is infiltrated underground, but preferably via multifunctional aboveground facilities. Wadis in parks are set up as play and clambering zones, an infiltration channel is provided with filtering plants, which promotes biodiversity.
In Ragheno, an new district of Mechelen, major developments are foreseen over the next 20 to 30 years. A smart water and energy concept is currently being developed to cope with the major challenges facing this district. Therefore, Mechelen is exploring the potential of digital twin on water and energy. In this, the city is selected for guidance from the Intelligent City Challenge initiative of the European Commission. The city strongly believes in the strengths of the digital transformation and the value of smart data to develop future-proofed solutions.
What do you expect from the network water Europe?
Water Europe has already given us knowledge on best practices and state of the art projects. We hope to build up good contacts with other partners. We also want to set up cooperation in European projects to develop pilots that can be building blocks of our long-term action plan.Read More
On March 25 the European Commission published guidelines clarifying the scope of the term ‘environmental damage’ in the Directive on environmental liability. These guidelines will help Member States to better assess whether damage to water, land and protected species and natural habitats must be prevented or restored by explaining the scope of each of these categories in detail.
In addition, they will offer greater legal clarity and harmonisation of its interpretation and application. These guidelines will support the implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy and the Zero Pollution Action Plan, and thus the preservation of water quality.
Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “Nature is under severe pressure from human activity and pollution, and halting the loss of biodiversity is a huge challenge for us all. These new guidelines will help towards achieving the objectives of our Biodiversity Strategy and our upcoming Zero Pollution Action Plan by making it clearer when actors are liable for environmental damage that they cause”.
The next steps to follow foreseen these guidelines as part of a wider effort by the Commission to strengthen implementation of the Directive on environmental liability, and more generally to strengthen how Member States follow up problems related to environmental harm and non-compliance with EU environmental legislation (including the Water Framework Directive). The Commission will thus work with the Member States and stakeholders to ensure that the guidelines are used correctly in the implementation of the Directive.Read More