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Fresh water makes up a very small part of the planet's total volume of water. It is a limited resource threatened by over-exploitation, pollution and the impact of climate change. "We cannot carry on with business as usual. We have to ask ourselves what we can and want to change. We have no choice," said the EU's Environment Commissioner, Janez Potocnik, on 24 March in Budapest. He presented the broad lines of a long-term vision he will be proposing in a blueprint for water in 2012. He presented the project to the EU's environment ministers, meeting for an informal session, on 25-26 March, also in Budapest.

"It is important to protect water and to explore how we are going to use it in the framework of sustainable management of the resource," said Hungary's Minister for Rural Development Sandor Fazekas as he opened the second day of the Climate action and water' conference in Budapest, on 24 March. The minister added that the Council was also debate this question the following day.

The EU has a long history of complex water legislation, focused on quality and only vaguely touching on the question of availability and management of the resource with the water management framework directive of 2000 (Directive 2000/60/EC). Its main objective is to achieve "good environmental status" of water by 2015. It imposes quality checks and the development of management plans by catchment area. These plans had to be submitted by member states in 2010. "They are being evaluated," said Potocnik, who says it is still too early to assess implementation of the directive (set for 2012). The commissioner added, on the other hand, that it is "urgent to broaden our reflection and to go further, to have a long-term vision". This is what the blueprint will propose. The aim is to demonstrate that water is tied to all policies and that it needs to be managed not only by means of Directive 2000/60 - which is its environmental pillar - but also through all sectors that use and pollute water. Commissioner Potocnik thus adopts the same approach as the communication on efficient use of resources, which advocates inclusion of these concerns in all EU policies.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), by 2050 the world's population will have risen from 6.9 to nine billion people. There will be 45 times as many outputs, 40 times more fish caught, water consumption will be multiplied by nine, energy consumption by 16 and CO2 emissions by 17. Citing these figures, Potocnik insisted: "These are facts we cannot ignore. We cannot go on with business as usual". As a first step, a road map to 2020 will be published this year. The 2012 blueprint for water will then propose options and launch the debate at European level for a strategy to 2050.

The blueprint will take stock of: management plans by catchment area (underway), the policy to combat drought (based on the communication on water scarcity and the drought of 2007) and the impact of EU climate policies. A set of recommendations will follow, based on the watchword for this process, "integration". These recommendations will focus on improving the efficiency of water use and land use, implementing ecosystem protection measures under the CAP, developing an approach for mainstreaming the water issue into all policies, and improving governance of water management as well as research and data collection, since the existing system, Water Information System for Europe (WISE), needs to be reinforced.
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Publication:Europe Environment
Geographic Code:4EXHU
Date:Mar 31, 2011

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