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EVENT REPORT | RESILIENCE IN ACTION: Towards a coordinated effort for a sustainable water resources management

On 14 February 2024, Aqua Publica Europea organised an event at the European Parliament to discuss how we can collaborate more effectively in the sustainable management of water resources. The event also provided an opportunity to facilitate a dialogue among various stakeholders and government levels, aiming to clarify responsibilities and identify each party's role in realising this vision.

Photo event

In recent years, Europe has increasingly witnessed how too much or too little water can threaten all aspects of social life and the economy. It is high time to intensify efforts to better manage the risks of extreme weather phenomena and the impact of climate change on our water resources.

Against this backdrop, Aqua Publica Europea organised a public seminar in the European Parliament to delve into the conditions necessary for improving our coordinated efforts towards the sustainable use of water resources. It also aimed to foster a dialogue among different stakeholders and levels of government to understand where responsibilities lie and the contributions each actor can make to achieve this vision.

MEP Sandra Pereira, who hosted the seminar, opened the session by stressing the need for immediate action. She emphasised the necessity to prioritise water usage in situations of scarcity for domestic needs, food production, and industry. MEP Pereira argued in favour of public management and ownership of water resources, asserting that access to water is a right and not a business.

In his keynote speech, Alain Maron, Brussels’ Minister for Environment and current chair of the Environment Council, stated that water is very high on the agenda of the Belgian Presidency. Amidst increasing flood and drought events caused by climate change, he outlined three key actions for  a sustainable management of water resources: (1)reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit the impact of climate change on water availability; (2)improving coordination among all relevant actors involved in the governance of this common good to restore the water cycle and ensure sustainable use; (3)rethinking the current cost-recovery model for water resources management to reconcile affordability and sustainability. Minister Maron emphasised the need for a better implementation of the polluter-pays principle, as consumers should not bear the responsibility for the pollution caused by the industrial world.


Luca Perez (European Commission) shared the Commission’s views on how to strengthen water resilience: a systemic transformation of water management is imperative at EU level and globally; it should be acknowledged that water quantity and quality are two sides of the same coin; the topic of water resilience should be approached in a comprehensive and holistic manner; there is a collective responsibility to ensure proper implementation of EU legislation and to advance new proposals; fairness and social justice play a crucial role. 

Sonja Koeppel (UNECE) emphasised that transboundary cooperation is not merely an option but a necessity to prevent conflicts, ensure sustainable development, and promote climate action. She shared lessons from the implementation of the UNECE Water Convention, highlighting the need to promote flexible and adaptable transboundary agreements, to mainstream resilience and climate change into basin management plans, and the importance of adopting a holistic approach that considers not only adaptation but also mitigation.

Bernard Van Nuffel (Aqua Publica Europea) explained that for water operators to establish solid drought risk management systems, several elements need to be considered: (1)accurate data on water quantity and usage must be made available to water operators, (2)there needs to be clarity in the attribution of responsibilities, and (3)policies on land uses and economic activities are crucial. He highlighted the finite nature of water as a resource that cannot be expended. If there is no water, then there is no water, we simply can’t create more.

Claire Baffert (WWF) highlighted that one of the first ingredients for water resilience is healthy freshwater ecosystems. Ms Baffert expressed concern that the value of water and freshwater ecosystems has been forgotten. Her two key messages underscored (1)the importance of ensuring that enough water and enough good quality water is left for nature and rivers as a condition to protect ourselves from extreme events, and (2)the need to reduce overall water demand and allocate water differently.


Roberto Mantovanelli (Aqua Publica Europea) highlighted the existing investment gap in the water sector in Europe, which is expected to grow further to finance the measures needed to address the impact of climate change. To climb the investment mountain, water operators have an important responsibility to increase efficiency, but this will not be enough. While he acknowledged the role of tariffs in supporting investments in water resilience, Mr Mantovanelli stressed that relying solely on tariffs is insufficient. It is necessary to think beyond with measures such as the polluter-pays principle, new sources of funding, and financial institutions with a deep understanding of the water sector to bridge the investment gap.

Aude Farnault (OECD) explained that the key to address the investment gap lies not in inventing new instruments but in scaling up existing ones that have proven effective in improving water resilience. She delved into the importance of understanding why we fail to value resilience in investments and how to better value resilience in investments. Ms Farnault put forward policy coherence across all sectors having an impact on water as a game changer.

Marco Beroš (EIB) highlighted that resilience is not a new concept, but what is new today is the uncertainty that comes with climate change. Mitigating this uncertainty is a key issue in order to ensure that financial institutions can provide a stable funding flow to the water sector. Mr Beros identified the extreme fragmentation of the water sector in Europe as a significant obstacle, emphasising its role in hindering the achievement of resilience, particularly for smaller operators.

Andrea Guerrini (WAREG) underlined how economic regulation can contribute to increasing resilience by fostering solutions that benefit all water utilities in Europe. Mr Guerrini highlighted the importance of institutionalising a dedicated actor at country level to oversee resilience and provide the right set of incentives and direction to ensure consistency in the efforts. As an example, he referred to the Italian regulator which launched a new indicator dedicated to water resilience in the tariffing mechanism for the water sector. This indicator, which is built as a ratio between water consumption and availability of water in all sources owned by water utilities, should incentivise water utilities in water-stressed areas to invest in actions that increase resilience. The cost of these actions will then be covered through a tariff increase.

MEP Anja Haga concluded the public seminar by emphasising that without water, survival is impossible. It is crucial to engage in discussions about the value of water; too often, it is taken for granted that water will always be available. She expressed satisfaction that key issues such as pollution, coordination, and finance were addressed, highlighting their significance. MEP Haga stressed the importance for politicians to show political courage to drive necessary changes.