"The impossible missions are the only ones that succeed"
22 June 2016, Water Innovation Europe 2016
Carlos Moedas - Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
Check Against Delivery
Mr Michel, Ladies and gentlemen,
In the 20th century, Captain Jacques Yves Cousteau, the French oceanographer and co-inventor of the Aqualung, pioneered a new kind of scientific communication. For over 40 years, he explored the world's waters, from the Amazon River to the Antarctic Ocean. Always with his characteristic sense of suspense and adventure, he brought the public with him through their television sets. He encouraged his audiences to wonder at the magnificence of nature and in his many books and documentaries, Cousteau planted marine research firmly into the public consciousness for the first time.
But his reverence for the world's waters, which deepened over his long career, left him fearful for the future. Cousteau was one of the first to warn us of the dangers of where humanity is headed and how we have taken our water resources for granted. He once said,
"For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realise that, in order to survive, he must protect it."
What I take from Cousteau's words, is that despite the clarity of the problem, we have been slow to grasp its enormity. Comfortable in Europe, we have been slow to question the huge amounts of water we use. Turning on the tap, is as normal to us as turning off the light. It barely registers in our mind.
In particular, we have been slow to question water quality for the future. Though our environmental awareness has never been so high, our current economic model still puts enormous pressure on water quality. For example, in the chemical spill-offs from agriculture and industry.
So I am very happy to be here today and to have received your Water Vision. I'm in a room full of conscious people and that fills me with hope for our future.
Today, I'd like to talk to you about my priorities − open innovation, open science and open to the world – and how I see their contribution to water in a smart society.
Of course, we have made progress. Europe was among the first to adopt strict water regulations, ensuring public health and the protection of environment. This legislation led to innovation to meet high standards, and made the EU a global leader in water management and water technologies. But over the years, the prevalence of regulation has also led to a lack of clarity and overlaps between related policy areas. This, in turn, has stifled investment.
Which brings me to my first priority. Open innovation.
Since water is a scarce resource and becoming even more so, it is important that European industries continue to innovate water practices. This way, Europe will be able to ensure its global leadership in strategic industrial sectors, creating employment, while contributing to a new circular economy.
Open innovation can help by bringing citizens, industries, utilities, investors, researchers and policy makers together to rethink how we use and manage water in the 21st century and the first things we must address are regulation and investment.
Let's start with regulation.
There is no doubt that the EU regulatory framework on water can help or hinder investment in innovation. It is therefore important to remove any legal uncertainty about how new innovations can be brought to market. So, to shorten the time it takes important water innovations to reach the market, EU Innovation Deals are designed to address perceived legislative barriers more quickly, by providing clarity, or identifying solutions within the existing legislation.
Last month, we launched an Innovation Deals pilot scheme within the scope of Circular Economy. Today, I want to encourage the innovators here, and in the wider water sector, to consider submitting a case for an Innovation Deal by the 15th of September. Together, we can remove legal uncertainty so that water innovations reach the market and contribute to the circular economy sooner.
Of course, once you have legal certainty, you also need investment. The Commission is therefore broadening the scope of the Horizon 2020 financing instrument, InnovFin. For example, we are exploring the possibility of creating a new Water Demo Financial Facility under InnovFin, a tool to finance highly innovative demonstration projects in the water sector. And we would ideally like to link this to a wider Water Investment Platform. Such a platform could build on existing financial instruments, particularly the European Fund for Strategic Investments.
This idea has already sparked the interest of my colleagues, Vice-President Katainen, Commissioner Vella and others. So, we would be grateful if you could help us identify specific investment needs in the water sector.
This brings me to my second point. Open science.
I was very pleased to see that one of the sessions this morning focused on 'water and the interface between digital and the physical world'. I believe, the next big leap in industrial leadership will come from using digital technologies in the water sector. Data analytics, smart sensors and new satellite technologies – all offer intelligent means to manage and protect the planet's water resources. Open science can help to merge these with the low-tech solutions we can gain more from too.
Now a broadcaster himself, and following in his grandfather's footsteps, Philippe Cousteau runs EarthEcho, an environmental education and youth leadership non-profit that he founded with his sister Alexandra. EarthEcho helps children in over 40 countries to monitor their local water quality. The basic kit includes just one set of hardware and enough reagents to conduct up to 50 rounds of testing. Then, every year, the data is compiled in a global overview.
Such data can provide an important basis for action to improve water quality, and optimise water management, in any community, but Europe can lead in how we embrace open science and open data, for three reasons.
The first is moral. The public has a right to know what's happening to their water and to be able to educate themselves about. The second is that we can greatly improve the information available to us, by engaging the public in citizen science. And the third is leadership in water industries. Europe was a leader for a long time because of our strict water regulation. Now leadership depends on bringing the digital and the physical together.
This brings me to my third and final point today. Open science works best when it is open to the world.
As you know, 90% of the global economy is dependent on water. And, as the World Economic Forum pointed out again last year,
"95% of Earth’s liquid freshwater is stored in underground aquifers, and this groundwater is being used far more quickly than it is being replenished".
Just a month ago, a World Bank report concluded that water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, could soon spur migration, spark conflict and cost some regions in the world up to 6% of their gross domestic product.
The EU therefore wants to encourage water innovation in every way possible.
For example, by coordinating European research and innovation efforts and cooperation with Southern Mediterranean partners, we can address weaknesses in food systems and water management. In other words, we can address some of the root causes of migration.
And by providing diverse incentives we hope to gain new momentum for water innovation.
Though the details are not finalised yet, I am pleased to announce that two inducement prizes related to water are foreseen in the forthcoming Horizon 2020 calls. One for achieving a plastic-free water environment and another on zero-power water infrastructure monitoring.
So, by investing in and bringing new momentum to research, by working closely with global partners, by being open to the world, we can create new opportunities for European water industries.
In March this year, The EU and India agreed to work together towards sustainable development. The ‘Joint Declaration by the European Union and the Republic of India on Indo-European Water Partnership’, foresees the strengthening of technological, scientific and management capabilities in the field of water management.
What does this mean?
EU companies and organisations will be sharing their water standards and practices with one of the world's fastest growing economies. It means applying digital solutions to gather and analyse data for more effective water management in India, directly improving the lives of millions of people and creating a stepping stone for Europe's renewed global leadership in water technology.
Ladies and gentlemen, the task before us: protecting our environment and all the creatures in it, while providing water to an ever-increasing global population, sometimes seems impossible.
So, I leave you where I began, with the words of Captain Cousteau,
"The impossible missions are the only ones that succeed."