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While water is generally abundant in Europe, water scarcity and droughts continue to affect some water basins in particular seasons. The Mediterranean region and most of the densely populated river basins in different parts of Europe are hot spots for water stress conditions.
During winter, some 30 million inhabitants live under water stress conditions, while the figure for summer is 70 million. This corresponds to 6 % and 14 % of the total population of Europe respectively.
Around 20 % of total the population of the Mediterranean region live under permanent water stress conditions. More than half (53 %) of the Mediterranean population is effected by water stress during the summer.
At 46 % and 35 % respectively, rivers and groundwater resources provide more than 80 % of the total water demand in Europe.
Agriculture accounts for 36 % of total water use on an annual scale. In summer, this increases to about 60 %. Agriculture in the Mediterranean region alone accounts for almost 75 % of total water use for agriculture in Europe.
Public water supply is second to agriculture, accounting for 32 % of total water use. This puts pressure on renewable water resources, particularly in high population density areas with no water coming from upstream.
Service sector has become one of the main pressures on renewable water resources, accounting for 11 % of total annual water use. Small Mediterranean islands in particular are under severe water stress conditions due to receiving 10-15 times more tourists than they have local inhabitants.
The manufacturing industry in 11 countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden) has achieved absolute decoupling of nutrient emissions from economic growth (GVA). A decrease in emissions coupled with a decrease in gross value added (GVA) occurred in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Belgium and Finland. However, in all cases (except Finland), the rate of emissions decrease was greater than that of GVA. An increase in nutrient emissions, accompanying the growth in GVA, was observed in Slovakia and Poland.
These developments arise from different absolute levels of emissions intensities and depend on there being no major changes in data coverage - such as including more facilities in the most recent reporting year despite them already existing in the earliest reporting year - within the countries during the reporting period. It should be noted that, as some industrial emissions may vary considerably from year to year, the comparison of just two selected years might be subject to variations, and not be representative of a consistent trend.
The achievement of absolute decoupling of manufacturing industries' heavy metals emissions from economic growth (GVA) was observed again in 12 countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden). A decrease in emissions, coupled with a decrease in GVA occurred in the United Kingdom, Italy and Belgium. In all cases, the decrease in the rate of emissions was greater than that of GVA (relative decoupling). An increase in emissions, despite a drop in GVA, was observed in Finland and France. Finally, a growth in emissions accompanying economic growth occurred in the manufacturing industry in Hungary.
Given the multiple factors that affect both sectoral GVA and the pollution pressure originating from manufacturing, it is complicated to draw direct relationships between these two variables. Some key descriptors, which could aid in explaining this behaviour, are the structure of the sector (e.g. facility size distribution, production technology, relative proportion reported as E-PRTR releases), the socioeconomic characteristics (e.g. salary levels) of the area and the policy and/or economic measures in place (e.g. treatment requirements, pollution charges, taxes). However, it must be noted that the specific context of each country could result in varying combinations of the factors mentioned and their aggregate effects.
Between 1985 and 2012, 7% of all stations in European seas that reported to the EEA showed decreasing trends in summer chlorophyll concentrations, whereas in 4% of the stations, increasing trends were found. In the majority of the stations (89%), no trends were observed.
Based on available data, chlorophyll concentrations, which are an indicator of eutrophication, are decreasing in the Greater North Sea, Bay of Biscay and Adriatic Sea, but increasing in many parts of the Baltic Sea. No trend assessment was possible for the Black Sea.
Between 1985 and 2012, m ost stations in European Seas that reported to the EEA showed no change in trends of concentrations of Dissolved Inorganic Nitrogen (DIN) or orthophosphate. In addition, a decrease in concentrations was observed for 14% and 13% respectively, while only a minority of stations showed an increase.
These trends mostly refer to stations in the northeast Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea, however, due to lack of reported data for other regional seas. A vailable data shows nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations are decreasing in the southern North Sea which is an area with a recognised eutrophication problem. In the Baltic Sea, also affected by eutrophication, nitrogen concentrations are decreasing but phosphate concentrations show an increase at some stations.
In 2012, the concentrations of the eight assessed hazardous substances were generally: Low or Moderate for Hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and lindane; Moderate for cadmium, mercury, lead, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and 6-Benzylaminopurine BAP; and Moderate or High for polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB).
A general downward trend was found between 2003 and 2012 in the North-East Atlantic for cadmium, lead, lindane, PCB, DDT and BAP, and also in the Baltic Sea for lindane and PCB. No trends could be calculated for the other regional seas.
Concentrations of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and total ammonium have decreased in European rivers in the period 1992 to 2012 (Fig. 1), mainly due to general improvement in waste water treatment.
Since 2005, average nitrate concentrations in European groundwater have declined and in 2011, the mean concentration had almost returned to the 1992 level.
The average nitrate concentration in European rivers declined by 0.03 milligrams per liter of nitrogen (mg N/l) (0.8%) per year over the period 1992 to 2012.
The decline in nitrate concentration reflects the effect of measures to reduce agricultural inputs of nitrate, as well as improvements in wastewater treatment.
Average orthophosphate concentration in European rivers has decreased markedly over the last two decades (0.003 milligrams per liter of phosphorous (mg P/l) or 2.1% per year).
Also, average lake phosphorus concentration decreased over the period 1992-2012 (0.0004 mg P/l, or 0.8% per year).
The decrease in phosphorus concentration reflects both improvements in wastewater treatment and the reduction of phosphorus in detergents.
River and coastal flooding have affected millions of people in Europe in the last decade. They affect human health through drowning, heart attacks, injuries, infections, exposure to chemical hazards, psychosocial consequences as well as disruption of services, including health services.
Observed increases in heavy precipitation and extreme coastal high-water events have increased the risk of river and coastal flooding in many European regions.
In the absence of additional adaptation, the projected increases in extreme precipitation events and in sea level would substantially increase the health risks associated with river and coastal flooding in Europe.
The length of the wet period has significantly increased in north-eastern Europe and decreased in south-western Europe. Changes in other regions are not statistically significant.
Data availability is insufficient for assessing trends of extreme daily precipitation across Europe. However, available studies generally point to a trend over recent decades towards more heavy precipitation, in particular in central and eastern Europe in winter.
No significant changes in the annually averaged duration of dry spells have been observed across Europe. However, increasing summer dryness has been observed in central and southern Europe since the 1950s.
Heavy precipitation events are likely to increase in most parts of Europe, especially in central and eastern Europe in winter.
The length of dry spells is projected to increase significantly in southern and central Europe, in particular in summer, and to decrease in northern Europe.
Precipitation trends since 1960 show an increase by up to 70 mm per decade in north-eastern and north-western Europe, in particular in winter, and a decrease by up to 90 mm per decade in some parts of southern Europe, in particular in summer.
Projected changes in precipitation vary substantially across regions and seasons. Annual precipitation is generally projected to increase in northern Europe and to decrease in southern Europe. Projected decrease is the strongest in southern Europe in summer.
Long-term trends in river flows due to climate change are difficult to detect due to substantial inter annual and decadal variability as well as modifications to natural water flows arising from water abstractions, man-made reservoirs and land-use changes. Nevertheless, increased river flows during winter and lower river flows during summer have been recorded since the 1960s in large parts of Europe.
Climate change is projected to result in strong changes in the seasonality of river flows across Europe. Summer flows are projected to decrease in most of Europe, including in regions where annual flows are projected to increase.
Absolute decoupling of nutrient emissions from domestic sector and the population growth over the period of almost two decades (1990-2009) is observed in thirteen countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Finland, Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia and Turkey). The actual extent of decoupling, and the differences in trends among countries, may be partially explained by different levels of numbers of inhabitants connected to tertiary wastewater treatment technologies
When making the EU wide comparison of the extend of decoupling of nutrient emissions from population growth, the actual rate of population connected to different types of treatment (elaborated in the CSI 024) should be taken into consideration, and completeness of the data available on population connected to collecting systems without treatment. The status of the implementation of the UWWTD which protects the water environment from the adverse effects of discharges of urban waste water, the level of investment in the water and wastewater management ,as well as the status of the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Groundwater Directive may have an impact. Furthermore household patterns as well as the household income level affecting the production and composition of waste water should be considered as well.
It is assumed that the use of actual data on loads discharged from wastewater treatment plants combined with the load values calculated for population not connected to the waste water treatment would add value to the decoupling indicator, as it would better reflect the real situation..
Nitrogen emission to water: Absolute decoupling of nitrogen emissions from GVA is observed in seven countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia ). This means that these countries succeeded in economy growth while reducing emissions to water. As the area of agriculture land remained constant during the analyzed period, the decrease in emission can be attributed to decrease in specific gross nutrient balance per hectare.
Relative decoupling was observed in the Czech Republic, and Poland. This means that the resource efficiency has increased, however with higher absolute emissions. Decreases in emissions coupled with a decrease in GVA occurred in 11 countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom). In six out of those 11 countries, the rate of emission decrease was greater than the rate of the GVA decrease.
Phosphorus emission to water: Absolute decoupling of phosphorus emissions from the GVA is observed in five countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, and Slovenia). Decrease in emission coupled with decrease in GVA occurred in ten countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom). In all these countries except Denmark, the rate of emission decrease was greater than the rate of the decrease of GVA.
The ranges of nutrient emission intensity of agriculture are quite wide and reflect varieties of agriculture practices across European countries.
Values of nitrogen emission intensity for 2008 range from 6,0 to 176 tons of total nitrogen per million EUR GVA per year. Significant decrease in nitrogen emission intensity between 2000 and 2008 was recorded in Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. In 2008 Bulgaria, Portugal and Romania reported (in Eurostat) the lowest values of the specific nitrogen balance per hectare. In creased emission intensity was observed in Denmark, Ireland and United Kingdom, however, this was due to a falling GVA not to emissions, which actually were reduced. Calculation of emission intensity based on GVA diminished by subsidies, which reflects better the actual economic performance from agriculture, result in much higher emission intensities for countries, e.g., Norway, Finland , Lithuania and Poland with relatively high contributions from subsidies to the economy.. The increment in emission intensity associated with excluding subsidies is significant namely in Norway (106 t/mio EUR/y) and Finland (38,8 t/mio EUR/y).
The 2008 values for total phosphorus emission intensity range from 0,47 to 13,03 tons per million EUR GVA per year. Significant decrease in the phosphorus emission intensity (decrease by more than 50%) over the last decade was recorded in nine countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech republic, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovenia). Moreover, Austria, Germany, France, Luxembourg and Portugal, reported (Eurostat) the lowest values of the specific phosphorus balance per hectare comparable to the EU-27 average, being 1 kg of total phosphorus per hectare per year. The impact of subsidies on phosphorus emission intensity (based on 2008 data), was most significant in Norway and Finland, where the increment in emission intensity associated with excluding subsidies accounted for 16,24 and 3,49 t/mio EUR/y respectively , whereas the increment in remaining countries did not exceed 1 t/mio EUR/y.
Subsidies: The analysis of subsidies on the output of the agricultural industry for the studied years showed that 13 countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Slovenia and the United Kingdom) reduced the proportion of subsidies in relation to the GVA of their agricultural sector between 2000 and 2008. On the other hand, 5 countries (Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia) increased this proportion during the same period. Information was incomplete for Bulgaria and Germany, where subsidy levels for years 2000 and 2008 respectively were reported as zero (Eurostat). Noteworthy is the sharp increase in the proportion of subsidies as part of GVA (being in the range between 12-26 % of GVA) in new Member States like Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia accompanied by the increase of GVA values. And, on the other hand, the significant reductions in old Member States like Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Given the multiple factors that affect both the change in sectoral GVA and in nutrient balance, it is complicated to draw direct relationships between these two variables. Some key descriptors which could aid in explaining the behavior of these are the structure of the sector (e.g. farm size, standard gross margins, crop type, stocking rate), the socioeconomic characteristics of the area (e.g. rural population, income and employment levels) and the policy measures in place (e.g. subsidies). However, it must be noted that the specific context of each country could result in varying combinations of the mentioned factors and their aggregate effects.
Wastewater treatment in all parts of Europe has improved during the last 15-20 years. The percentage of the population connected to wastewater treatment in the Southern, South-Eastern and Eastern Europe has increased over the last ten years. Latest values of population connected to wastewater treatment in the Southern countries are comparable to the values of Central and Northern countries, whereas the values of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe are still relatively low compared to Central and Northern Europe.
Water temperatures in major European rivers have increased by 1–3 °C over the last century. Several time series show increasing lake and river temperatures all over Europe over the last 60 to 90 years.
Lake and river surface water temperatures are projected to increase with further projected increases in air temperature.
Increased temperature can result in marked changes in species composition and functioning of aquatic ecosystems.
The existence of ice cover and the timing of ice break-up influence the vertical mixing of lakes and are therefore of critical ecological importance.
The duration of ice cover on European lakes and rivers has shortened at a mean rate of 12 days per century over the last 150–200 years.
A further decrease in the duration of lake ice cover is projected with projected climate change.
More than 325 major river floods have been reported for Europe since 1980, of which more than 200 have been reported since 2000.
The rise in the reported number of flood events over recent decades results mainly from better reporting and from land-use changes
Global warming is projected to intensify the hydrological cycle and increase the occurrence and frequency of flood events in large parts of Europe. However, estimates of changes in flood frequency and magnitude remain highly uncertain. In regions with reduced snow accumulation during winter, the risk of early spring flooding would decrease.
Europe has been affected by several major droughts in recent decades, such as the catastrophic drought associated with the 2003 summer heat wave in central parts of the continent and the 2005 drought in the Iberian Peninsula.
Severity and frequency of droughts appear to have increased in parts of Europe, in particular in southern Europe.
Regions most prone to an increase in drought hazard are southern and south-eastern Europe, but minimum river flows will also decrease significantly in many other parts of the continent, especially in summer.
The quality of water at designated bathing waters in Europe (coastal and inland) has improved significantly since 1990.
Compliance with mandatory values in EU coastal bathing waters increased from just below 80 % in 1990 to 93.1 % in 2011. Compliance with guide values likewise rose from over 68 % to 80.1 % in 2011.
Compliance with mandatory values in EU inland bathing waters increased from over 52 % in 1990 to 89.9 % in 2011. Similarly, the rate of compliance with guide values moved from over 36 % in 1990 to 70.4 % in 2011.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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