In anticipation of the EU Water Innovation Conference (EUWIC) that takes place in Zaragoza, Spain on 12 December 2019, REVOLVE talks with Veronica Manfredi – Director for Quality of Life (Air, Water, Marine Environment, Industrial Emissions & Safety) of DG Environment in the European Commission.
The European Union is a global frontrunner in water management, pollution reduction and climate adaptation. However, a “water-smart society” requires faster action to reduce the risks, such as experienced by droughts and floods. To illustrate this point: between 1998 and 2009, floods in Europe caused 1,126 deaths, the displacement of about half a million people and at least €52 billion of insured economic losses. And a large part of Europe is still facing the consequences of drought, which has impacted ecosystems and water use beyond the normal, such as reducing the shipping capacity of the Rhine River.
Europe is a continent of innovators, and we look forward to discuss with them and with policy-makers what changes can and will be driven by the European institutions at technical, governance and policy levels, and how good practices can be extended more dynamically from pilot studies – often implemented with LIFE or Horizon 2020 funding mechanisms – as mainstream components of water management in EU Member States, by public authorities, private business or civil society and its organisations.
How to improve the quality of life in Europe? Is it different to the rest of the world?
Air quality is a first area. Air quality in Europe has improved over the past decades, alongside a period of increasing gross domestic product (GDP) and national incomes. We know that decoupling emissions of air pollutants and economic growth works. But we cannot be satisfied with the rate of improvement. We know that more than 400,000 premature deaths in Europe every year are linked to air pollution. EU air quality standards are being exceeded in 20 Member States and in around 130 cities across the European Union.
The pollutants with the largest quantified health effects in Europe today are particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. That is why we continue to act forcefully on them, implementing our EU clean air policies for ambient air as well as emission reductions at source and at national level.
The air challenge clearly spans almost all economics sectors.
On a global level, much remains to be done, too. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 4.2 million premature deaths each year are attributable to outdoor air pollution with fine particulate matter: strikingly, 90% of these to occur in low- and middle-income countries.
Water quality is another example. Europe has achieved a lot in this area – safe drinking water, many safe bathing water spots and a huge reduction in loads of pollution because now the vast majority of households and businesses are connected to wastewater treatment plants. Our rivers and lakes have also become much healthier – many rivers that were essentially open sewers just a few decades ago are now good enough for some fish, a source for irrigation and even for drinking water.