Brussels, 30 June 2011
CoR proposes bold steps to improve sustainable water management
Europe must do more to ensure the sustainable use of water or risk failure in its battle against climate change and an increasing risk of both droughts and floods. This was the message from the Committee of the Regions on Thursday following the adoption of an opinion drafted by Nichi Vendola (IT/PES), President of the Puglia region, which also calls for a multi-level, cross-border approach to the management of river basins and proposes extending the Covenant of Mayors to include sustainable water use.
"Water should be seen as a human right, and we have a duty to ensure that we preserve it for current and future generations," said Vendola. "That means taking bold steps – for example, setting targets for water efficiency – and adopting a truly multi-level governance approach involving European, national, regional and local authorities to the management of each water basin. In this context, well-functioning public services that provide access to water play a vital role. Preserving water should also be seen as an integral and vital part of Europe's efforts to combat the impact of climate change, which has not really been the case up to now."
The opinion on the role of local and regional authorities in the sustainable use of water was requested by the Hungarian EU Presidency and adopted by the CoR plenary just as Budapest prepares to hand over the EU reins to Warsaw. Both Hungary and Poland have suffered from devastating floods in recent years, and in order to help prevent further floods, or droughts, in the future, the CoR wants to see the water basin management approach extended by bringing together authorities from every level of government across national borders. The Committee's request is expected to be taken on board by the European Commission, which will propose a blueprint for protecting Europe's water during 2012.
Among the many proposals suggested in the opinion is one that calls for new EU legal provisions that request each Member State to set out precise efficiency targets at river-basin level for every water-dependent sector (domestic, industrial, agricultural, fish farming, tourism, hydroelectric power, etc.). The opinion also proposes merging EU targets for energy and water efficiency in buildings, and for efficiency targets to be adapted to the needs of each local area.
Reinforcing the link between climate action and sustainable water use, the Committee's opinion also proposes setting targets for 2020 similar to those on energy consumption: a 20% increase in water-saving in all sectors; a 20% increase in the number of water courses being renaturalised to reduce flood risk and a 20% increase in the volume of water re-used and/or recycled in farming and industry. As a result, Vendola's opinion calls for the Covenant of Mayors, which has already seen more than 2500 local and regional authorities pledge to go beyond the 2020 energy targets, to expand its focus in order to include the issue of water as well.
This is also the view of CoR member Daiva Matonienė (LT/EA), Member of Šiauliai City Council, in her opinion on the future of the LIFE programme, due to be adopted at the plenary on 1 July. She suggests that LIFE funding – which is usually used to support nature and environmental protection programmes – could also in the future be used to finance "the extension of the concept of the Covenant of Mayors from energy efficient to resource efficient and environment-friendly cities".
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The Committee of the Regions
The Committee of the Regions is the EU's assembly of regional and local representatives. The mission of its 344 members from all 27 EU Member States is to involve regional and local authorities and the communities they represent in the EU's decision-making process and to inform them about EU policies. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council are obliged to consult the Committee in policy areas affecting regions and cities. It can appeal to the EU Court of Justice if its rights are infringed or it believes that an EU law violates the subsidiarity principle or fails to respect regional or local powers.
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