A policy for water

Waste management also in the EU's "ecological" commitments

Saving water as a resource, and improving the management of bio-waste: two initiatives in the environmental field, taken by the Commission this week, pose anew the issues of ecological protection, the safeguard of natural sources and the improvement of the quality of life as EU goals. These are fields in which Europe is registering, at least verbally, growing attention, but on which legislative provisions, political initiatives and the awareness and behaviour of citizens are often inadequate. “Our life insurance”. The European Commission first of all published a report on water scarcity and drought in the EU which highlights some urgent priorities for action: in particular reducing consumption in public and private buildings; containing aqueduct leakage; and providing incentives to achieve efficient water use in agriculture. The analysis starts out from some macrosituations and on this basis makes some specific recommendations, which concern citizens’ everyday life and others of a political and economic nature. The Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potocnik, explained: “These are all essential elements to ensure that Europe has enough good quality water to meet the needs of users and to face the challenges of a changing climate”. “Water – urged the Commissioner – is life. So water policy is our life insurance”. The report “highlights the importance of integrating water policy into wider policy goals at all levels, both at EU and national levels”. Some political measures. The same report states that “the balance between water demand and availability has reached a critical level in many areas of Europe. Water scarcity and droughts have emerged as a major challenge, and climate change is expected to make matters worse”. Nor is the problem limited to southern Europe: it affects the whole of Europe. In the Commission’s view, water scarcity or the inefficient management of water systems are “not limited to Mediterranean countries. The Czech Republic has reported areas with frequent water scarcity, and France and Belgium have reported over-exploited aquifers”. For years the European Commission has urged “member states to adopt policy options such as water pricing, improved water management tools, and efficiency and water saving measures”. It has also issued recommendations relating to domestic aids for the efficient distribution of water, eco-compatible water management systems, industrial production and personal “lifestyles” which comprise a growing consumption of water. The Commission has further announced the launch of “a number of preparatory activities in view of a 2012 water scarcity and droughts policy review”.An untapped potential. The Commission also presented earlier this week a package of measures aimed at improving the management of bio-waste in the EU and exploiting “its significant environmental and economic benefits”. Bio-degradable garden, kitchen and food waste represents – again according to Potocnik – 88 million tonnes of municipal waste each year and has major potential impacts on the environment. But it also has considerable promise as a renewable source of energy and recycled materials”. This realization has given rise to a “Communication” of the Executive aimed at promoting interventions “to unlock this potential by making the best use of existing legislation while giving member states discretion to choose the options best suited to their individual circumstances”. At the same time “supporting initiatives at the EU level will also be necessary”. The Commissioner explains: “We already have a significant body of legislation governing bio-waste in the EU. But through better implementation and enforcement, we can squeeze even more benefit from bio-waste”. Maintaining healthy soil and slowing biodiversity loss. The Commissioner for the Environment is convinced that “this will not only help in the fight against climate change: producing good quality compost and biogas will contribute to healthy soil and slow biodiversity loss”. Descending to the operational level, the Communication also contains recommendations on waste recycling, differentiated collection, improved bio-waste treatment, and the production of compost and biogas. “Highly efficient systems based on separating various streams of bio-waste already exist – pointed out the Commissioner – in Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Cataluna in Spain and certain regions in Italy”.

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