Interview with MEP Pernille Weiss, new Chairwoman of the MEP Water Group
Why is water important for you? What drives you personally to this new role at the MEP Water Group?
By its very nature, water is in constant circulation. In all communities, we have a shared responsibility to manage our water resources effectively and to bear in mind the impacts that water use can have on other sectors. The lessons we are learning with this pandemic reinforce my conviction that water is at the heart of society. Water has endless possibilities that need to be unlocked. It’s all about how we both use and re-use the water that we have at our disposal, both as a resource and as a source of energy.
Firstly, we need to stop wasting the water we are using daily. 80% of wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused in today’s world. Only 2.4% of the treated urban wastewater effluents are reused annually in Europe. It is a huge untapped potential for our society, particularly for the regions that suffer most from water scarcity. The EU already has several solutions that simply need to be upscaled.
Secondly, it is important to include the diverse role of water in our energy supply. Water purification costs a lot of energy – but also has the means to create a lot of energy. Therefore, the focus on the energy efficiency of urban wastewater is also crucial.
We must share our knowledge, technologies and best practices in order to prevent such a massive waste of resources. What we need is a better infrastructure, accompanied by the most modern water purification technologies we have at our disposal. That is what drives me personally in fulfilling my new role at the MEP Water Group, especially coming from Denmark, where technology and knowledge have made Danish water utilities frontrunners when it comes to water loss. With a loss of only 7.8% compared to countries wasting up to 60%, it is among the best in the world when it comes to the use of wastewater.
The wastewater sector also has huge potential to help reduce CO2 emissions. In my home country, Denmark, several wastewater treatment plants, for example, the ‘Kalundborg Utility’ and – as cited in the World Energy Outlook 2016 – ‘Marselisborg Wastewater Treatment Plant’, are now operating in a climate-neutral manner. In fact, they are producing energy while also being highly efficient in traditional water treatment. For these very reasons, it is essential to have a critical review of the legal framework; starting with the current Urban Waste Water Directive which dates from 1991. By spreading that knowledge and technologies, we can set in motion more exports of Danish solutions and foster job creation. This will be a showcase of sustainable water technologies for both the EU and the rest of the world.
Could you tell us a few words about the MEP Water Group and the importance of its activities?
With climate change, water risk management is one of the greatest challenges humanity faces today. However, water remains somewhat invisible in politics. Only when we start looking at the support the water sector provides to all the other sectors of our society, we realise its quintessential position. With the launch of the Green Deal, the European Commission contributes to the efforts to tackle these challenges. This legislature is an opportunity to secure multiple purposes and users of water. What we deeply need is a “Water-Smart Society.”
Therefore, the MEP Water Group has to play a key role in contributing to the future of the EU water policy. We will do so by raising the importance of water for the European Union and beyond and making sure that water management is consistently considered in EU legislation. Furthermore, we need to ensure that Europe’s water resources are managed sustainably and equitably to the benefit of the European economy and society. Treated water needs to be safe and accessible for all. Therefore, MEP Water Group will also enhance the need to tackle pollution at source.
Furthermore, our Group will encourage technological and non-technological innovations and research to tackle water-related challenges by supporting entrepreneurs and fostering job creation in the green sector.
As the new chairwoman of the MEP Water Group, which are the dossiers that you will first focus on?
The green deal, focusing on CO2 emission and hence energy efficiency will be a red line for me as a chair and the MEP water group. Industry, housing and public infrastructure need to embrace this transition and the water sector itself.
The current global pandemic demonstrated to me and to us all the necessity to go from curative solutions to risk management and preventive measures. Scarcity of water can be the next type of crisis and the COVID19 stresses the importance to make effective smart water management. It is my hope that the EU’s green recovery package (NextGenerationEU) will, among other things, set in motion a modernization and expansion of the water infrastructure wherever needed. Moreover, we can share the best solutions with the rest of the world.
In the coming months, the EU will focus on several topics in water management: The Industrial emission directive, the Urban Wastewater treatment directive and the zero-pollution strategy are among them.
Households, industry sectors and the water sector should be addressed in this approach, therefore we shall apply new innovative methods designed to unleash new ideas rather than classic limiting regulation. New initiatives will require financing. As such, a sound cost recovery principle throughout the European water sector is a good example. However, the Just Transition Fund, the green taxonomy, NextGenerationEU fund, as well as the Horizon Europe programme, can all contribute to developing good and integrated water solutions to support the European water industry and all EU citizens.
I feel honoured to fill this new role and am looking forward to the challenge. It’s time we adapt our water management to the challenges we face – that includes tapping the potential in water.