When it comes to improving the management of European waters, it pays to start by looking at the biggest user. Recently, that was found to be the energy sector, a somewhat surprising fact which underlines the inter-dependence of water and energy. Water efficiency is improving in the energy sector, thanks to investment in infrastructure, changing technology and growing awareness of the problems of over-exploitation. But there are still significant issues about the volume of abstraction and the impact of energy production on water quality. The EU therefore needs to find ways of decoupling energy production from water use, to devise strategies to increase water efficiency and to adopt intelligent water re-use systems.
The EU also has to step back and look at the bigger picture. In recent years, numerous decisions have been taken to “decarbonise” Europe’s economy in response to climate change. There is a distinct trend to curb conventional technologies and shift from fossil fuels to greener energy, including hydropower and biofuels. There is a flip side to this approach, however: the production of fuels from biomass takes up massive amounts of water, while hydropower affects the quality of water running through its systems. The EU therefore has to build a set of policies that takes into account these multiple challenges.
The issue of water management extends well beyond the water-energy nexus, of course. Water affects all aspects of our lives, so it needs to be integrated in all major policy areas, including the Common Agricultural Policy and the Cohesion Policy, and become a high-profile priority on the EU agenda. 2012 is a crucial time for water policy. It is the European Year of Water, when the European Commission will unveil its “Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water”. This document will consider regional and global aspects of EU water policy, and reinforce the Union’s objectives on water management. The European Parliament is playing its part, too, drafting a report on the current status of EU water legislation, which will include measures to address the water-energy challenge.
Richard Seeber, MEP, is a Member of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.