Water and marine environment

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Page Last modified 16 Oct 2017
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All life on our planet — including our ecosystems, society and economy — is dependent on water. Marine and freshwater ecosystems have many vital functions:
  • filtering, diluting and storing water
  • preventing floods
  • maintaining the climate balance at local and global levels
  • safeguarding biological diversity

Both ecosystems provide a wide range of goods and services, as well as natural resources, the means of trade and transport and opportunities for recreation. Protecting these benefits requires an equally broad outlook. Policies on water and the marine environment need to be integrated with those on climate change adaptation and biological diversity. They also need to be integrated with policies on the various sectors involved, such as agriculture, tourism, energy and transport.

Europe's freshwater resources are under increasing pressure, and its coastal areas and seas have been significantly altered by centuries of human activity. This has caused environmental changes in coastal and marine ecosystems, such as water pollution and eutrophication (or nutrient enrichment), loss of biological diversity, landscape deterioration and coastal erosion.

Pressures such as land use, water abstraction and climate change can alter the natural flow regimes of water bodies. In addition, in some areas water use often exceeds water availability, resulting in water stress. We must improve the way we use and manage our marine and freshwater resources if we are to continue to benefit from the vital services that our water ecosystems provide.

Protecting water and marine resources — and ensuring their ecological quality — is a cornerstone of EU environmental policy. The Water Framework Directive (WFD), introduced in 2000, and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) of 2008 are frameworks for the management of entire water ecosystems. They set the objective of achieving good environmental status for our freshwater and marine resources through an ecosystem-based, or holistic, approach.

Europe's waters are much cleaner than they were 25 years ago, thanks to investment in sewage treatment systems to reduce pollution from urban wastewater. However, the WFD target for 2015 was met for only 53 % of surface water bodies in Europe. The remainder are still in poor ecological status (River Basin Management Report 2012).

Despite greatly improved wastewater treatment, less overfishing and the increased coverage of Marine Protected Areas, the 2020 MSFD targets for good environmental status in coastal and marine environments also remain a challenge.

EU policies

Protecting Europe's shared water and marine environments, resources and ecosystems from pollution, over abstraction and structural changes will need coordinated action at EU level.

The WFD provides a framework for water protection and management in the EU. In 2010, EU Member States released 160 river basin management plans for the period 2009-2015, which aimed to protect and improve the water environment. The second set of river basin management plans covering the period 2016–2021 were finalised in 2016/2017.

In 2012, the European Commission published A Blueprint to Safeguard Europe's Water Resources (COM(2012)673). It focuses on policy actions that will improve how current water legislation is applied in practice and on integrating water policy objectives with other policies. The Blueprint builds on water policies relating to water resource efficiency and sustainable water management in the same timeframe as the EU's 2020 Strategy up to 2050.

In addition to the WFD and the Blueprint, there are four water directives to ensure the good status of Europe's waters:

The Floods Directive (2007/60/EC), which encourages the development of flood risk management plans, also significantly supports the objectives of the WFD.

The MSFD, supported by the WFD and the Habitats and Birds Directives, is an integrated, whole ecosystem-based response that aims to achieve good environmental status for many specific environmental aspects.

As set out in the MSFD, three important steps in its implementation took place in 2012:

  1. Member States submitted reports on their initial assessment of the current environmental status of their marine waters (Art. 8 MSFD);
  2. Member States determined of what good environmental status (GES) means for the marine waters of relevant marine regions and subregions (Art. 9 MSFD); and
  3. Member States identified environmental targets and associated indicators to guide their progress towards achieving GES by 2020 (Art. 10 MSFD).

Other important EU policies that present a coherent approach to maritime issues with improved coordination between different policy areas are the Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP), Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive (2014/89/EU) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

European waters are not only the concern of the EU. For decades there has been strong regional and international cooperation through the following organisations and conventions:

The EEA's Eionet structure also provides a solid foundation for establishing a harmonised policy and implementation framework among non-EU EEA member countries and the neighbourhood countries.

EEA activities

The EEA's mission is to provide timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information on water and marine issues. This is supported by the European Topic Centre on Inland, Coastal and Marine waters (ETC/ICM).

The EEA supports the implementation and evaluation of existing and upcoming EU water and marine policies. It contributes to a comprehensive knowledge base that addresses the preservation, resilience and restoration of European water and marine ecosystems. This provides a sound basis for policymaking and takes the form of reports, data, indicators and assessments, all available on the EEA website and online information platforms (WISE-Freshwater, WISE-Marine).

The Water Information System for Europe (WISE) is a partnership between the European Commission (Directorate-General for Environment, Joint Research Centre and Eurostat) and the EEA. WISE is a comprehensive portal to freshwater knowledge. The Water Data Centre, an important part of WISE, provides data and other information collected by EU institutions for stakeholders. WISE viewers and interactive maps allow a wide range of information to be accessed and presented in its geographic context.

WISE-Marine is being developed as a web-based portal for sharing information on the marine environment at the EU level. Its focus on the state of the marine environment at the European scale will compliment similar coverage at regional and national levels, such as regional sea conventions and Member States' marine information systems. WISE-Marine will provide data and information in line with common standards, and it will contribute to better decision-making on the conservation and sustainable use of the marine environment.

In addition to the EEA's state of environment reports (SOERs), which are published every 5 years, it also publishes a series of reports to assess the state of Europe's water and marine environment:

EEA reports address critical aspects of water for policymaking such as resource efficiency and economics, ecological and chemical status, hydro-morphology (or the physical characteristics of water bodies), vulnerability and biodiversity.

The ETC/ICM also publishes technical reports that can be accessed on its website.

Outlook

The EEA will continue to provide information and assessments, with increasing focus on the ecosystem-based approach and sustainable water management and use of Europe's seas. WISE will continue to host the knowledge base needed to monitor Europe's progress on it path towards good environmental status for its freshwater and marine environments.

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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