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European Water Stewardship – Towards sustainable water management now and for the future

Is it possible to combine a festive ceremony with an informative conference on Europe’s water resource management? It is! Being a credit to the entire 3-years development process, the EWS Launch has been a dynamic, celebratory and content-wise challenging event taking place on November 24th at the Royal Academy of Belgium in Brussels. Representatives of industries, agriculture, public authorities and civil society provided best input in fruitful debates and highlightened the broad variety of perspectives on sustainable water resource management or the added value of Water Stewardship.

In his opening speech, Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, expressed clearly his expectation that the EWS contributes to the successful implementation of EU water policy. In his presentation he invited “all water users in industry and agriculture to join this pioneering process, to help ensure the availability of water resources for the future”.

The key-note speech given by Peter Gammeltoft (European Commission, DG Environment, Unit for Water and Marine Environment) focused on EWS´s role within EU Water policy – in particular the current Blueprint activities. In this context, Mr Gammeltoft considered the EWS Launch as one milestone of public interest, since the EWS and its stakeholders are crucially contributing to the achievement of the governance goal of the Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water.

EWS in industry – More than creating awareness

During the panel discussion on the EWS implementation in industry, Joppe Cramwinckel (World Business Council for Sustainable Development) underlined that the EWS standard is absolutely operational. Furthermore he stated that The EWS provides a tool for public participation in the river basin management also in terms of shared responsibility.”

Taking leadership and providing good examples – the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) is taking this challenge and enhanced its policies considering the recent EWS pilot test results. “Water Stewardship is the “next step” for us, where all our members take conscience of their impact on river system”, declares Marco Mensink (CEPI). The former EWS piloting organization Borealis revealed its reflections on their operational water risk during pilot testing in Belgium as “[…] water stress is emerging. We are just too many people, with too much industry and too much agriculture depending on the same water sources.”

All panel speakers welcomed that the EWS standard is not limited on raising awareness – but provides a pragmatic while challenging tool to transfer the knowledge on water risks into action. The EWS standard has been approved as suitable to establish an integrated water management strategy at industrial production sites. Offering a tool for B2B communication, the EWS enables industries to visualize their efforts and achievements.

Agriculture – Local solutions needed

At the dynamic panel for agriculture, speakers unanimously emphasized that water management has to be more present in partnerships and projects on sustainable agriculture. The active exchange of good practices among farmers has been considered as crucial part to reach this aim. Panel speakers confirmed the risk that short term strategies in agriculture often override measures and procedures which would be appropriate in a long term. Moreover, policies debates in many cases miss out not only the long-term but also the local level. Thus, the promising potential of EWS is to establish and represent the link between actors of different sectors, with various time horizons and at all spatial levels. Therefore, EWS has been advised by some panellists to keep its focus on downstream-activities. Corrado Pirzio-Biroli (European Landowners’ Organization) emphasized that EWS can be a guide to self-managed actions within public-private cooperation.

Finally, the majority of speakers at the panel for agriculture agreed after a dynamic exchange of views that incentives and compensations of farmers are clearly needed when services are provided that go beyond legal requirements.

EWS – A viable partnership for the future

Widening the perspective from EWS achievements towards the upcoming EWS activities, key partners from industry and agriculture committed explicitly to support the future EWS implementation.  “Future starts here” – with that message, Eckhard Koch (BASF SE) affirmed the ongoing support of BASF SE based on the positive achievements as EWS major strategic partners. “EWS helped us to establish a common language for sustainable water management internally and we will actively build up on this basis”. Mr. Koch emphasized that mitigation of water risks and suitable response strategies should not stay restricted on local and seasonal level but tools like the EWS standard should be also taken up with a global perspective. The added value of the EWS system is that it shows how a multi-stakeholder approach can work efficiently and improve the communication of a complex issue. Nikolaus Tacke (Coca-Cola Group) transferred the brand-new decision of its company to extend its collaboration with EWS into its implementation phase.

Friedhelm Schmider (European Crop Protection Association, ECPA) expects that the future model of business in Europe will be based on stakeholder cooperation.  In that sense, he acclaimed EWS as suitable and challenging partner in ECPAs “Hungry for Change” initiative. ECPA will actively support the EWS implementation by using the EWS standard for an evaluation of ECPA members’ industrial production sites.

The Launch successfully reflected EWS´s strengths and potential in content work, partnership collaboration and dynamic, inclusive exchange. The future implementation of the EWS system will have to prove how these achievements can be successfully transferred into a robust business model for the benefit of all: water users, public authorities and most important: Europe´s river basins.

Photos of the event are available at the Picture Gallery.

The EWP team would be grateful to receive your feedback on the overall organization of the EWS Launch. Please feel free to fill in our evaluation form.

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