Exclusive Interview with Svenja Schulze, German Federal Minister for the Environment in an exclusive interview with Water Europe
What are the main priorities of the German presidency and what’s the role of water in achieving them?
In environment policy, we are moving forward in four priority areas: climate action, nature conservation, circular economy and digitalisation. The water sector plays an important role in many different contexts: With the new European Climate Law we are underlining the importance of adaptation to climate change in the water sector. The EU Biodiversity Strategy’s 2030 objectives and activities will support implementing the EU’s water management objectives. In December, the Council will address the Circular Economy Action Plan, which identifies “Food, water and nutrients” as one of seven “key product value chains” that require targeted action. I am aware that some stakeholders from the water sector support following a similar approach in water policy with a view to establishing producer responsibility. Unfortunately, copy and paste will not do the job. We will have to find solutions that are suited to the specific challenges in water management. Finally, we know there is enormous potential for digital solutions in the water sector and in water management, from optimising efficient water use to improved modelling and better use of data for planning and decision-making.
Making the European Union the world’s first climate neutral continent by 2050 is an important goal. What have been the actions of the German presidency towards accomplishing this target?
The first part of a short and intensive journey is now behind us. Less than a year ago, the heads of state and government decided to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050. In March 2020, the European Commission tabled its draft EU Climate Law. Germany, as a moderator, successfully negotiated the adoption of large parts of the EU Climate Law. The German presidency has a key role to play in the second part of the journey: finding common ground between EU member states on a more ambitious 2030 climate target.
Which ones are the expected impacts of the 2030 climate target plan presented last month and how can this contribute to the achievement of a Water-Smart society?
The Commission’s Climate Target Plan and the impact assessment highlight the potential for emission reduction in water supply and wastewater management. Think of what we could improve by minimising energy consumption for the extraction, treatment and distribution of water and for the treatment of wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants can even become suppliers of electricity and heat. However, water pollution with trace substances leads to higher demands in wastewater treatment performance that may result in increased energy consumption of the plant. That is why we need to improve our precautionary substance policy, for example a Zero Pollution Action Plan. The focus of a Water-Smart Society is on adaptation to climate change. Droughts and floods, but also gradual effects on water availability, quality and water-related ecosystems, make adaptation a water issue. Failure to adopt climate-resilient water management would cost billions of euros in damage. Sustainable and climate-resilient water management is therefore a critical building block for the overall climate resilience of economic sectors, ecosystems and society at large. To highlight the importance of a water-related perspective being well reflected in the upcoming new EU adaptation strategy, the BMU is hosting the conference “Climate Change and the European Water Dimension – Increasing Resilience” on 4 and 5 November.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call stressing the importance of a strong water sector. Which ones do you think are the strongest tools of the European Union in its effort to overcome this crisis and prevent a future one?
Throughout the pandemic, we have maintained water and wastewater services at the usual high level. No pandemic-induced outages or shortages have been reported, and facilities have swiftly adapted to the new situation. We are extremely grateful to the staff at these facilities. Nevertheless, we need to improve the overall resilience of the system. Digitalisation is certainly an important element. However, we should also not forget how crucial sufficient and well-trained personnel is.