Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Thank you for the invitation to open this conference.
I will start by congratulating our hosts, who are holding this ambitious event back-to-back with yesterday’s very successful European Innovation Partnership on Water (EIP) event.
Today you will be diving straight into specific challenges, like ageing infrastructure and flood protection. Before we talk detail I wanted to remind ourselves of the wider context.
When we talk about water, we are actually talking about the lifeline of a city. We are talking about essential public services. So much human activity in cities depends on a good water system. Cities want prosperity and quality of life, and for that, ladies and gentlemen, they count on you.
Like so many essential services, good water systems are only noticed when things go wrong. They are expected to be a constant - dependable and unseen. Your water authorities can almost measure their success by how little they are mentioned!
But that does not mean that they don't deserve the highest praise and recognition. And I hope that recognition is felt today.
Your decisions have an effect far beyond city limits. Upstream and downstream, in faraway river basins, in groundwater bodies, and in our seas. This makes you key players in implementing EU water policy. Without your support, Europe will never achieve its key water objectives.
I know that to some extent, I am preaching to the choir. You already have water management high on your agenda. Leeuwarden is leading the way with its approach towards water technology, international collaboration and involving local citizens. This not only strengthens entrepreneurship and growth. It also makes it easier to solve local problems and preserve ecosystem services.
And I know many other cities are using similarly innovative approaches. At the conference yesterday, we heard about London’s strategic urban planning accounts for water, for example. I was also impressed to hear about the many nature-based solutions for flood management that are increasingly common around the EU. Urban water retention measures in places like Vienna, Helsinki, Geneva, and Tallinn come to mind.
But there is still room for improvement.
Europe can help. There is a wealth of experience to be shared from the EU LIFE programme, for example. Our programme has been supporting water management for nearly 25 years. It has now co-funded more than 150 initiatives, optimising water supply systems, improving wastewater treatment, fostering adaptation to climate change, and restoring and preserving water bodies. We always welcome new applications for funding, so do keep us in mind.
Looking back at yesterday, I do see some healthy trends to applaud. We are seeing good progress with the Innovation Partnership. A number of Action Groups have translated their thoughts and inventions into tangible steps. Some 45 municipalities and regions in Europe – and around the world – have already applied the EIP Water City Blueprints methodology. This is helping them measure the sustainability of their Urban Water Cycle Services. It also means they can quickly share new breakthroughs and solutions..
And more good work is going on through the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. It brings together thousands of local and regional authorities committed to implementing EU energy and climate objectives. That means stronger resilience, helping citizens fight climate change and extreme weather events like flooding or drought.
All of which goes to show that cities are the places where the water solutions of the future are taking shape. It is cities that are finding solutions to problems like storm overflows. And it is cities that are showing how water treatment plants can become sources of nutrients and energy.
That brings me to today. Gathered here, we have an opportunity to draw on a wealth of information and experience. A chance to see how different places are facing up to similar challenges. Whatever your challenge, you can almost be certain that another city has already found itself in a similar position.
With forums like this and our on-line tools, it's never been easier to share. My view is that we should all develop a new reflex. Sharing information, and looking for solutions tried and tested elsewhere should become a habit. So there is no need to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Municipal authorities, water innovators, policymakers – we so often share the same agenda. So let's work together. Let's use today as a stepping stone on the path to better, more efficient, more effective water management.
And let's dare to inspire each other. I would be very pleased to see more commitment to defining objectives, setting targets, and taking action to achieve them. Today is the time to do that, and to invite other cities to join the effort.
Ladies and gentlemen, let's grasp that opportunity. I wish you a successful conference, and I very much look forward to hearing about the outcome of your discussions today.
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