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Adapting the management of Water and Environmental Resources in response to Global Change

"Water and its availability and quality will be the main pressures on, and issues for, societies and the environment under climate change"
(IPCC Technical paper "Climate Change and water", June 2008)

In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on adapting to climate change which presents the framework for adaptation measures and policies to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

The White Paper highlights the need "to promote strategies which increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems".

The accompanying Impact assessment and the Policy paper on Water, Coasts and Marine issues provide an in-depth analysis of the role of water and ecosystems in the transmission of potential climate change impacts to the economy and society. The IA also describes the potential for ecosystem-based adaptation approaches and the need to properly assess the environmental impact of adaptation measures and policies.

As part of the actions included in the White Paper, Water Directors of EU Member States adopted in December 2009 a Guidance document on adaptation to climate change in water management to ensure that the River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) are climate-proofed.

The Impact Assessment of the Blueprint to Safeguard European Water resources presented in 2012 performed a review of the vulnerability of water and environmental resources to climate change and man-made pressures, based on various in-depth assessments:

  • The future water situation and developments in the water sector have been examined in Europe until 2050 by the ClimWatAdapt project in terms of vulnerability to water scarcity, droughts and floods (see final report and annexes). Downscaled climate change scenarios point to an increase of the occurrence of droughts and floods. However, vulnerability to water scarcity is more dependent on socio-economic development (land use, water use) than on climate change exposure. ClimWatAdapt results have been integrated into the European Climate Adaptation Platform.
  • In the context of the Impact assessment for the Blueprint, refining the result of ClimWatAdapt, the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission developed a baseline scenario bringing together climate, land-use and socio-economic scenarios and a multi-criteria optimization of different policy scenarios for water resources availability and use. The methodology and the results are described in the support studies "A multi-criteria optimisation of scenarios for the protection of water resources in Europe" and "Evaluation of the effectiveness of Natural Water Retention Measures".
  • Regarding the latter, complementary action is on-going, aiming at a better understanding of the costs, benefits and implementation issues of policies and measures to boost ecosystem storage capacity for water in Europe. These measures are referred to as natural water retention measures.
  • A complementary study (ADWICE, see final report and annexes, reviewed existing knowledge on the potential effects of Climate Change on Drinking Water (DW) resources across the EU. It also proposed a methodology to assess the vulnerability of drinking water resources in the EU and provided possible avenues for further scientific research and actions that may be taken by decision-makers at different levels, based on the identified gaps and issues.
  • The Blueprint revealed a lack of accurate information on the actual impact of economic activity on water resources (and conversely the vulnerability of economic sectors to changes in resource availability), in particular - but not only - for the electricity production sector. A recent report developed an inventory of water use by key sectors using cooling water (Power Generation, Iron and Steel, Refineries and Chemical sectors) which will enable further assessment by the European Commission and the European Environment Agency (EEA) of the impact of energy and industrial use of water on water resources and the vulnerability of the former to changes in water resources availability. The report and the associated database can contribute to shape European policy (development, impact assessment and evaluation) on sustainable production including the use of water for cooling purposes.
  • The Blueprint also included recommendations for ensuring that climate change is taken into account in the implementation of the Floods Directive, and assessed the need for further measures to enhance water efficiency in agriculture, households and buildings.
  • At regional scale, a substantial research effort has been undertaken under the recently completed Preparatory Action "Climate of the Carpathians": The CARPATCLIM project improved the basis of climate data in the Carpathian Region for applied regional climatological studies such as a Climate Atlas and/or drought monitoring. The CARPIVIA and CARPATHCC projects assessed the vulnerability of the Carpathian region to climate change in combination with other anthropogenic pressures, and performed an inventory of potential and already implemented adaptation measures, focusing on ecosystem-based adaptation measures. A synthesis report presents the major findings and outcomes of these three EU projects. Results from these projects are being integrated with the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT).
  • Finally, the building of water balances at EU level is paving the way for a more precise quantification of pressures on water resources and of sectoral/geographical variations

Successful adaptation to the impacts of climate change on water depends not just on effective national and European water regulations, but also on the extent to which water management can be integrated into other sectoral policies such as agriculture, energy, cohesion and health.

Adaptation is being taken into account in the review or implementation of other relevant environmental policies, in particular biodiversity, coastal and marine environment.

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