Climate change is challenging our societies with increasing pressure in all resources needed for life and economic growth. Water is undoubtedly one of the resources most affected by the current climate emergency. Water scarcity is indeed one of the major concerns for society and governments. The European Commission is actively working to manage this situation and secure water quality and supply required for human activity.
Last March 11th, the European Commission adopted the New Circular Economy Action Plan which aims to contribute to a green future, strengthening the competitiveness while protecting the environment and give new rights to consumers.
This plan is one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal, a road map for making the EU's economy sustainable and competitive at the same time. This deal works on boosting the efficient use of resources by moving to a circular economy, restoring biodiversity and reducing pollution.
The Action Plan outlines a set of commitments in carbon reduction, economic growth, and risk management. This vision intends to escape from vague and uncertain goals as done in greenwashing approaches by setting tangible outcomes. In words of the Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, "This is Europe's 'man on the moon' moment".. Thus, the European Green Deal proposes an extensive revision of existing legislation in sectors such as transport, energy, agriculture or buildings. Its aim is to explore how circularity and resource efficiency can help with the EU's broader goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.
The ambition of the plan will have a great implication in the existing business models. A ban on the destruction of unsold durable goods will be introduced, while incentives will be created to promote product-as-a-service ownership models and return schemes for selected product flows.
This plan contains different measures for the value chain of the following key products:
- Electronics and ICT.
- Batteries and vehicles.
- Construction and buildings.
- Food, water and nutrients.
Regarding food, the Commission consider specific measures to increase the sustainability of food distribution and consumption. Under the sustainable products initiative, the Commission will launch the analytical work to determine the scope of a legislative initiative on reuse to substitute single-use packaging, tableware and cutlery by reusable products in food services.
The new Water Reuse Regulation will encourage circular approaches to water reuse in agriculture. The Commission will facilitate water reuse and efficiency, including in industrial processes.
In addition, the Commission will develop an Integrated Nutrient Management Plan, with a view to ensuring more sustainable application of nutrients and stimulating the markets for recovered nutrients. The Commission will also consider reviewing directives on wastewater treatment and sewage sludge and will assess natural means of nutrient removal such as algae.
It is also relevant to mention the proposal on minimum requirements for Water Reuse in agriculture approved by EU Parliament in February 2018, which contributes to alleviating water scarcity across the EU, in the context of adaptation to climate change. It concerns agricultural irrigation, with agriculture being an important user of water. The proposal ensures that reclaimed water intended for agricultural irrigation is safe, thus protecting citizens and the environment.
EU intervention on water reuse for agricultural irrigation is justified to prevent that different requirements in EU member states negatively affect the confidence in our food sector and cause obstacles to the internal market, especially for primary agricultural products.
This proposal also introduces the following key elements:
- Minimum requirements for quality of reclaimed water and monitoring.
- Key risk management tasks.
- Increased transparency.