Von der Leyen Commission halts ‘water resilience initiative’, risking deeper harm to drought and flood hit Europe

Posted on 15 February 2024

​Europe has been scarred by floods, droughts and forest fires - and yet the von der Leyen Commission is scrapping the promised “initiative for water resilience” in a move that will harm Europeans, farmers and nature as the impacts of climate change grow ever more fierce.
The Commission’s Communication on the initiative, announced last September by President von de Leyen as a 2024 priority under the European Green Deal, joins a growing pile of row-backs on rules and proposals that are designed to protect our future as the world gets hotter and weather gets more extreme. 

The Commission's decision to “pause” the initiative for water resilience will not stop Europeans from experiencing the catastrophic impacts of droughts and floods. The summer of 2023 was the hottest on record globally and this trend will continue as predicted by science.

Claire Baffert, Senior Water Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office, said: “I am appalled that the von der Leyen Commission has taken the irresponsible decision to halt the water resilience initiative when intense floods and droughts are already drowning or parching parts of Europe at an immense cost to communities, farmers, our food supply and nature. It makes absolutely no sense and can only be intended to make political gains in the run-up to the election. I urge the European Commission to put water resilience back on the political agenda.”

Sergiy Moroz, Policy Manager for Water and Biodiversity at the European Environmental Bureau, said: “Boosting Europe’s water resilience through healthy freshwater ecosystems is essential to providing water for our crops and livestock and ensuring our drinking water supply for the long-term. Why the European Commission is jeopardising something as essential as water resilience in the face of a climate emergency is unfathomable.” 

Chris Baker, Director of Wetlands International Europe, said: “The European public is the biggest loser from this decision. We will be more exposed to the growing threats posed by droughts, floods and fires as our climate rapidly changes. Most government, private sector and civil society organisations are unanimous that action is urgently needed at the EU level to reduce our water-related disaster risks and make us more secure, especially by ensuring the good condition and health of wetlands, our natural water stores. This is a common sense priority for everyone.”

Andras Krolopp, Head of Biodiversity Policy, Europe at The Nature Conservancy, said: "Such an unexpected move not only undermines the entire Green Deal but also jeopardises Europe's water resilience. We should keep in mind the global repercussions where the international community has already recognised the importance of resilience in mitigating the impacts of climate change. Should the EU fail to prioritise water resilience, it risks undermining its credibility in global negotiations and forums, thereby diminishing its ability to effectively address pressing environmental challenges.”
 
Living Rivers Europe is a coalition of 6 NGOs calling for a new EU Climate and Water Resilience Law that prioritises restoring and protecting freshwater ecosystems. It would see the creation of a network of natural water reserves to protect critical water supplies and their catchments in water-stressed areas, provide adequate finance for protecting and restoring natural “sponge” landscapes, and the establishment of water saving targets.

Contact: Zoë Casey, Freshwater Communications Officer: zcasey@wwf.eu 
People wade through flood waters
© Jonathan Ford