Key messages

What is the current problem?

  • Water stress occurs on 20 % of the EU territory and affects 30 % of the EU population on average per year, impacting environment, society and economy.
  • The milestone set in the 2011 EU resource efficiency roadmap — by 2020, water abstraction should stay below 20 % of available water in Europe — has not been reached in 19 % of EU’s territory in 2017.
  • Despite the publication of the EU’s Communication on water scarcity and drought in 2007 and the Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources in 2012, EU policy on water scarcity and drought remains scattered and implementation has been slow.

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How will this problem develop over the coming decades?

  • Water stress in Europe varies depending on location. Southern Europe faces persistent or aggravated water stress problems throughout the year. In other parts of Europe water stress is not permanent, but tends to increase in frequency, magnitude and impact.
  • Water stress shows a tendency to concentrate in three types of areas: urban areas, irrigated agricultural areas, and coastal areas with intense tourism. The latter two are mainly found in, but not restricted to, southern Europe.
  • A positive trend is that water use efficiency is increasing in Europe: water abstractions in the EU27+UK in 2017 have decreased by 24 % since 2000, while in the same period the gross value added has increased by 52 %.

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Which actions are required?

  • Renewed or continued efforts must be made by EU Member States to develop Drought Management Plans (DMPs), based on long-term strategies for pro-active water management, and making the transition from crisis management to risk management.
  • The data collection and information flows must be further refined and tailored to the spatial and temporal scale at which water stress makes itself felt, capitalizing on the results of current innovation programmes and lessons learned in sectors where decoupling is already being accomplished, such as the manufacturing sector. Based on this, a renewed analysis of the future water stress at EU scale is called for.
  • A key factor contributing to the effectiveness of the EU water directives in progressing towards their objectives are the (binding) cross-references to the Water Framework Directive’s objectives in other EU policies. Sectoral policy interventions must not only work in synergy with water policies but also actively support them.
  • Impacts of water stress are felt at local and regional scale, while the drivers act from regional to global scale. Connection of these levels of analysis requires operationalised nexus approaches and systemic thinking. A practical first step is to foster projects with ecosystem service approaches and nature-based solutions in drought management, because these approaches inherently accommodate such thinking.

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