Last Update: 15 March 2013
Water resources are directly impacted by climate change, and the management of these resources affects the vulnerability of ecosystems, socio-economic activities and human health. Water management is also expected to play an increasingly central role in adaptation.
Climate change is projected to lead to major changes in water availability across Europe with increasing water scarcity and droughts mainly in Southern Europe and increasing risk of floods throughout most of Europe.
Climate change aggravates existing pressures on water resources from, inter alia, pollution, overuse and population increase. The rise in water temperatures and increased flooding and droughts will also impact upon water quality.
The current increase in losses from floods can be explained to a large extent by higher levels of human activity and accumulation of economic assets in hazard-prone areas, but also, to a smaller extent, by better reporting. Although the share of losses attributable to climate change is currently impossible to determine accurately, it is likely to increase in the future, since the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are projected to grow.
Successful adaptation to the impacts of climate change on water depends both on effective national and European water legislation, and on mainstreaming adaptation into related policies.
The main EU policy instrument in which climate adaptation is mainstreamed is the Water Framework Directive (WFD), aiming at long-term sustainable water management based on a high level of protection of the aquatic environment. It is due to be implemented with a 6-yearly review cycle, which will assist adaptation over time. The general objective is to achieve good ecological and chemical status in all surface water bodies and good quantitative and chemical status in groundwater bodies by 2015. In addition, climate change must also be integrated in the implementation of the Floods Directive.
The first WFD River Basin Management Plans for 2009-2015 were submitted in 2009/2010. The river basin management plans, particularly the second in 2015, should take into account the impacts of climate change, using guidance published in 2009. The Floods Directive requires member states to first carry out a preliminary assessment by 2011 to identify the river basins and associated coastal areas at risk of flooding. For such zones they would then need to draw up flood risk maps by 2013 and establish flood risk management plans focused on prevention, protection and preparedness by 2015.
The main overall objective of EU water policy is to ensure access to good quality water in sufficient quantity for all Europeans, and to ensure the good status of all water bodies across Europe. Therefore, policies and actions are being set up in order to prevent and mitigate water scarcity and drought situations, with the priority to move towards a water-efficient and water-saving economy. The July 2007 Communication on addressing the challenge of water scarcity and drought in the EU sets out a number of policy options for addressing water scarcity, including the important roles played by water pricing and land-use planning in incentivising efficient water use. An in-depth assessment of measures by the Commission is underway as part of preparations for the 2012 Water Scarcity and Droughts policy review. A SOER2010 thematic assessment was published on 'Water resources: quantity and flows'.
The Blueprint to safeguard Europe's water resources is a communication to be released by the end of 2012 that will address the evolution of water resources, including water's vulnerability to climate change and anthropogenic pressures (i.e. land use management). It will focus on different water resource management aspects that are related to adaption (land use management, indicative water efficiency targets, economic instruments, innovation, governance and knowledge base). Significant EU funding for water measures is available through the Common Agricultural Policy's (CAP) Rural Development instrument, and will continue to be so post 2013.
The Water Blueprint outlines actions on better implementation of current water legislation, integration of water policy objectives into other policies, and filling the gaps in particular as regards water quantity and efficiency. The objective is to ensure that a sufficient quantity of good quality water is available for people's needs, the economy and the environment throughout the EU.
The time horizon is closely related to the EU's 2020 Strategy and, in particular, to the 2011 Resource Efficiency Roadmap, of which the Blueprint is the water milestone. However, the analysis underpinning the Blueprint covers a longer time span, up to 2050, and is expected to drive EU water policy over the long term. The Blueprint mentions that efforts must be enhanced to deal with water pollution, water abstraction for agriculture and energy production, land use and the impacts of climate change. Several reports published by EEA in 2012 supported the Blueprint .