European Union nations discussed tools to improve the quality and management of drinking water as consumption rises and climate change threatens to exacerbate shortages in some parts of the region.
Environment ministers from the EU’s 27 national governments held talks today to identify proposals that may be included in a policy paper on safeguarding water resources at meetings hosted by Cyprus, which took over the EU six-month rotating presidency on July 1.
“The most important of all is to educate people to learn how to use water and how to save water,” Cyprus Environment Minister Sofocles Aletraris told a briefing in Nicosia. One of the most urgent issues that member states identified was water demand management and the EU paper must focus on improving the situation through meters, sewage treatment and reducing water losses in various networks.
The United Nations says about 800 million people worldwide don’t have safe drinking water and 2.7 billion of the planet’s 7 billion inhabitants lack access to proper sanitation facilities. Water and wastewater treatment is a $113 billion industry, according to international agency estimates.
Europe still faces “considerable challenges,” including pollution and a decline in soil organic matter, to achieve a goal of clean water in all EU reservoirs, rivers, lakes and seas by 2015, according to a background paper for today’s meeting written by the Cypriot government.
“Demographic evolution, land use change and economic development are projected to increase pollution and water shortages,” Cyprus said in the document. “This is expected to be exacerbated by climate change, particularly in the Mediterranean region, while increasing the intensity and frequency of floods in many parts of Europe.”
The EU policy paper, scheduled to be presented by the European Commission in November, will recommend additional steps that should be taken to improve water management at the national, regional and river-basin level. Regulators will take into account specific situations in individual member states, Aletraris said.
Computer models show parts of Spain and Italy, with large agricultural operations, getting drier and drought situations may become more common in the coming decades.
“There was quite a broad consensus about the way forward and we’re really encouraged after today’s debate that we’re on the right track,” EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik told the briefing.
The second day of the meeting in Nicosia will be devoted to adapting to climate change and the use of private and EU funds to improve infrastructure and minimize threats from global warming.
The EU is on track to meet its binding goal of lowering carbon-dioxide discharges 20 percent by 2020 and has repeatedly said it’s ready to tighten it if other countries, such as the U.S. and China, follow suit.
While Cyprus will present its priorities on climate change, the meeting won’t include discussion of EU carbon-reduction goals beyond 2020 or the bloc’s carbon market after talks on those issues stalled earlier this year.
Ministers don’t make formal decisions at such meetings, which are organized twice a year by countries that hold the EU presidency.