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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Water: the need for innovation is urgent

Closing remarks at the 1st Annual Conference of the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Water

Strasbourg, 21 November 2013

Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be here with you at this first annual conference of the European Innovation Partnership on Water.

Unfortunately I could not spend more time with you here today as my presence was required in Strasbourg. I am sure you understand that I must give priority to my accountability to the European Parliament.

However, I have been informed that you have had a very interesting day so far, with stimulating and thought-provoking presentations and discussions, and that you have had the opportunity to give your opinion on several occasions through the voting system.

Ladies and gentlemen

First of all, allow me to set out what I wish for, as this conference draws to an end:

  • I hope today has given you new insights;

  • I hope that you will benefit from the opportunities which the EIP Water provides, such as the Online Market Place and links to EU funding mechanisms;

  • I hope you have used your votes today to help shape the next phase of the EIP Water;

  • I hope you have taken advantage of the great networking opportunities here today;

  • I hope you agree with me that we need to develop and apply innovative solutions to tackle our many water challenges: challenges that the Commission has set out clearly in the Blueprint for Europe's Waters and the Roadmap for a Resource-Efficient Europe;

  • I hope you agree with me that if we want to drive innovative solutions, we ourselves should also be innovative in how we work: working together in partnerships, challenging standard approaches and cutting across silos. With the public and private sectors joining forces; public authorities and utility companies, scientists, researchers, and small businesses – all those who have a stake in water and innovation;

  • I hope you share with me the sense of urgency, but that you can also see the opportunities which innovative solutions bring in terms of better management of a precious and increasingly scarce resource while at the same time opening up new markets delivering economic growth and jobs;

  • But, ladies and gentlemen, most of all, I hope that you agree with me that hoping for all of these things is not enough. If we really want to move ahead and drive innovations, we need to take action.

This is why I am personally committed to the EIP Water. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel; we are looking for ways to be most effective in bringing together all the work that so many of you are already doing. We aim to connect and supplement; not to duplicate.

And I am relieved that we do not need to reinvent the wheel, as the challenges we face in the field of water management require urgent innovation.

The Blueprint to safeguard Europe's waters, which we presented a year ago, showed us that there has already been a lot of progress in water management within the EU, but it also
showed us that there is still a lot of work ahead if we want to reach our objectives.

If we look at the challenges on a global scale, the OECD estimates that global water demand will increase by more than 50 % by 2050, which will lead to increased competition for water.

By 2050, it is also estimated that almost a quarter of a billion people will still not have better access to water. And this is just about access to water of any quality, not about access to water of drinking quality.

By 2050, it is estimated that a staggering 1.5 billion people worldwide will still not have access to basic sanitation.

Today, between 100 and 200 million people worldwide are victims of floods, droughts and other water-related disasters every year. We only have to think back to the scenes in the Philippines at the beginning of this month to see the devastation which water can cause. On the one hand we see flooding on such a vast scale that it could not be adequately handled by the sewage system, while on the other hand we see no clean water to drink, to cook with,… to wash.

And by 2050, the economic value of assets at risk is expected to be around US $ 45 trillion, an increase of over 340 % from 2010.

So let me try to put this into some kind of perspective.

2050 is only 37 years away. That means that your children and grandchildren will be directly affected.

In Europe today, only 11 of the 28 EU capitals have a waste water collection system and water treatment system in place which complies with the technical standards of more than 20 years ago. This means that dirty, contaminated water is flowing into our oceans, our seas, our rivers, our lakes, our streams, our ponds potentially damaging the health of our citizens as well as the environment. And, let's not forget the economic consequences for those whose livelihoods depend on a steady supply of clean water – for industry, agriculture, fisheries – to name but a few.

So when the Commission makes proposals – as we did recently – for eco-labelling toilets that use less water, I am prepared to face the ridiculing puns in some papers, and I am prepared to argue against the suggestion that this is not something important enough for the Commission to do when we are in an economic crisis.


Ladies and gentlemen,

The EIP Water itself will not be able to address all of these challenges. But it does provide a platform to support change.

Since its launch, just 18 months ago, and the adoption of the Strategic Implementation Plan, we have brought together a wide variety of stakeholders who play a direct role in water and innovation, from utilities to the financial sector, from agriculture to ICT, from NGOs to the processing industry and so on, to set out priority areas for action.

50 million Euros from the 7th Framework Programme have been made available to fund demonstration projects in line with those priorities.

The Task Force of the Water EIP is working on identifying the most persistent barriers to innovation and preparing an Action Plan to remove them.

An online Market Place has been launched where those with problems can be matched more easily with those who can provide solutions. In the few months since its launch, it has already attracted over 400 registered users. An updated version of the Market Place is available today. I invite you to have a look and see what it can offer you.

This summer, I joined my colleague Vice‑President Tajani – the Commissioner for Enterpriise and Industry – on a "Mission 4 Growth" to China. We invited a wide range of organisations to accompany us including the EIP Water. I would like to take this opportunity today to thank those organisations from the EIP Water who took up that invitation. We intend to continue to open up future missions for growth to EIP Water actors so that you can seize the opportunity to explore the potential for new partnerships and export-markets.

Within the framework of the EIP Water, the European Investment Bank is exploring the need for new financial instruments to support water innovation. I intend to continue discussing with the EIB how we can jointly address their findings.

In our first call for Action Groups, we received over 60 proposals with more than 700 individual organizations as partners.

Based on their excellence, 9 of these proposals were selected as Action Groups, and you will have seen them presented here today. Perhaps you will have even identified Action Groups you would be interested in joining.

So, as you can see ladies and gentlemen, we have already done a lot. But what you can expect in the future?

I'm very happy to announce that the second call for expressions of commitment for Action Groups is now open.

We are looking forward to receiving new proposals for specific innovations.

Proposals for Action Groups should respond to the priorities set out in the Strategic Implementation Plan, bringing together the demand and supply sides of innovation to develop specific innovative approaches that can be easily implemented, and – hopefully – brought to market.

The Task Force yesterday decided on a set of evaluation criteria and on their weighting to improve the clarity and transparency of the evaluation process. As these will be published this week, we have decided to prolong the deadline for proposals until the 31st of January.

All relevant information is of course available on the Online Market Place.

Earlier this afternoon I understand that you had the opportunity to see some of the organizations that are planning to submit their proposals in the "EIP Water's got talent" session.

In addition, the EIP Water will continue to complement the excellent work that is already being done by the many related initiatives such as the Technology Platforms, Joint Programming initiatives, National Water Partnerships and many others.

A key activity we will be focusing on in the coming year is how we support the dissemination of proven innovations in water management. We need to ensure that what already works well becomes available to a growing number of people, inside and outside Europe. Of course, this should also bring new market opportunities.

The water sector is currently a 450 – 500 billion US dollar global market, with a steady 3-4 % growth rate. This rate is much higher in particular sectors1.

For example, world demand for water treatment products is projected to increase 5.7 % to 59 billion US dollars next year2.


Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude.

The challenges are numerous, maybe even daunting, but at the same time the opportunities are great and we cannot afford to miss them. Working together we will all be better prepared to face the challenges as well as to take advantage of the opportunities. The EIP Water is an excellent instrument to support this, bringing together all relevant professionals, initiatives and organizations around shared interests.

However, it all comes down to our own commitment to make things work. Within the European Commission, DG Environment and DG Research and Innovation will continue their hard work to make the EIP Water a successful and useful initiative. And I can also give you my personal commitment to ensure that the EIP Water will continue to drive and facilitate the development of water innovations.

Let me finish by thanking the organisers of this first conference for their excellent work, and thanking the many stakeholders who have already contributed to building the EIP Water. Let's continue our efforts. Not for the sake of the EIP Water, but for the future of our waters.

I hope you have had a fruitful day, please enjoy the networking reception and I wish you a safe journey home.

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