Interview with Jan Dusík, Government Plenipotentiary for International Climate Negotiations & Deputy Minister of Environment, EU Czech Presidency
Could you please tell us what are the main priorities of the Czech presidency and how they are linked with key water-related issues?
The war in Ukraine has significantly affected the priorities of the Czech Presidency, but the environment remains an important priority. Water protection cannot be addressed without considering other areas, it is closely linked to adaptation to climate change, restoring ecological services to the landscape and so on. The Czech Presidency places great emphasis on landscape restoration along the land-water-forest line. A conference on this topic was organised in Prague in September 2022 and the outcome is the Prague Appeal, which summarises the main prerequisites for successful adaptation measures, including water retention in the landscape, and calls on politicians and the public to pay more attention to them. At the EU Council, the Czech Presidency has been focusing intensively on the rules to drive down deforestation and on the regulation on nature restoration. On 26 October 2022, the European Commission published revisions to the EU Water Framework Directive and the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. The first phase of the negotiations will be a priority for CZ PRES. Drought and water scarcity are also topics at COP27, where Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala will take part in a panel debate on ensuring sufficient water resources.
The Czech Republic considers soil protection as one of the priorities of its presidency. The European Commission’s strategy for healthy soils and the Resolution of the European Parliament stressed the importance of the soil-water nexus and particularly the need to achieve a Water-Smart Society to create co-benefits for soils and water management. Therefore, how will you consider this nexus in the Council discussions during your presidency?
One of the objectives of the EU Soil Strategy for 2030: Reaping the benefits of healthy soils for people, food, nature and climate is to develop a European Soil Health Act. The Czech Republic has taken this new strategy into account in its positions and negotiations. It is also guided by the principles of soil protection in relation to the water nexus with particular emphasis on addressing erosion, compaction and preventing land take that prevents water infiltration. Addressing these issues has a positive impact on water retention in the landscape and on soil water content.
How can research and innovation help strengthening Europe’s strategic resilience and how do you see the role of water in this regard?
There are still many questions that need further scientific understanding. First of all, there is climate change research where we need more accurate predictions of how different regions and their water resources will be affected. On this basis we can then better target, for example, the interconnection of water supply systems or water retention measures in the landscape. In the more vulnerable EU countries, wastewater recycling is likely to be used more, so we need to make sure that recycled water is safe for health. At the same time, we need to ensure that water management does not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. It will be necessary to investigate options for carbon-neutral management of wastewater and sludge. The benefits and drawbacks of hydropower also need to be carefully weighed up.
It is also crucial for human health and ecosystems that waters are free of hazardous chemicals. With the development of industry, new pollutants such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals or substances from sunscreen products continue to emerge, and their potential harmfulness is being investigated by EU research institutions together with Member States.
The WFD list of priority substances will still need to be updated, though the latest draft update was published on 26 October 2022. The same applies to the watchlist of potentially hazardous substances where the list of new substances for which the EU still has little information was last updated in 2022.
We are also paying close attention to research at national level. The Czech Technology Agency supports two flagship projects in water protection and the Czech Ministry of the Environment is their expert guarantor. The first is “The Water Centre” which aims to provide comprehensive answers to the question of how to ensure sufficient clean water for human consumption in the future while improving the state of ecosystems. The second is “Perun Research Centre” which is refining models of climate change on our territory and developing solutions for water scarcity.
Our vision is to build a Water-Smart Society where the value of water is recognised and realised. Which actions and measures should they be taken to be able to achieve this?
The Strategic Objectives of water management of urbanised areas in the field of rainwater management in the Czech Republic include six main objectives. The first is to restore the natural water balance in existing developments and maintain the natural water balance in new developments including flood and drought prevention. The second objective is to protect urbanised areas from flooding due to heavy rainfall. In addition, the strategy also aims to use rainwater as a utility resource in order to reduce the demands on production, transport and consumption of drinking water. Another objective is to improve the microclimate in cities, in particular by increasing humidity and reducing air temperature and dust. Equally important is the protection of surface water and groundwater, namely the reduction of pollution and, in the case of surface water, the improvement of its morphological status which is linked to an increase of biodiversity and ecosystems. A final important objective is to promote the use of water for aesthetic, recreational and other services in urbanised areas. It is important to see water within human settlements as a means to improve the quality of life.