Freshwater crisis: NGO coalition calls for new EU Climate and Water Resilience Law

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Wetlands International Europe is one of six NGOs asking for a new “EU Climate and Water Resilience Law” that prioritises restoring and protecting freshwater ecosystems to ensure clean and sufficient water for people and nature. The call from the Living Rivers Europe coalition [1] comes as the European Economic and Social Committee holds a high-level “Call for an EU Blue Deal” conference today, and it follows the European Commission’s announcement that it will present an Initiative for Water Resilience in the first quarter of 2024.

Freshwater ecosystems have been over-exploited and lost for decades, undermining Europe’s resilience to the fast-growing consequences of climate change: increased drought, floods and fires, while also resulting in massive biodiversity and habitat loss. A new EU Climate and Water Resilience Law supported by the NGOs would provide the EU with stronger tools to adapt to climate change by creating a network of natural Water Reserves to protect critical water supplies and their catchments in water-stressed areas, providing adequate finance for protecting and restoring natural “sponge” landscapes such as peatlands, and contributing to setting sectoral water efficiency and water abstraction targets for all water users at basin level.

“We welcome the announcement of an EU Blue Deal that puts water at the top of the EU agenda for action. Wetlands are our natural water stores and their protection and restoration is essential for a safer and more water resilient Europe. We urge the European Commission to put these freshwater ecosystems at the heart of the Blue Deal by proposing an EU Climate and Resilience Law to effectively adapt to climate change,” says Chris Baker, Director of Wetlands International Europe.

The NGOs caution against turning to concrete infrastructure in a bid to temporarily fix water shortage and flood problems: “Building new dams, channelling riverbeds or implementing large-scale water transfers only increases our vulnerability to climate change impacts in the future. Instead, natural ecosystems including free-flowing rivers, restored floodplains, wetlands and natural sponges such as peatlands need the space and freedom to do their job of absorbing, filtering and storing water, and providing vital habitats for nature,” says Paul Brotherton, Freshwater Manager at Wetlands international Europe.

In the position paper for water resilience, Living Rivers Europe also calls for the full enforcement of the Water Framework Directive, for climate adaptation to be integrated into all EU policies and an end to subsidies that harm freshwater ecosystems.

[1] Living Rivers Europe is a coalition of six environmental and angling organisations gathering WWF’s European network, the European Anglers AllianceEuropean Environmental BureauEuropean Rivers Network, The Nature Conservancy and Wetlands International Europe.