The Leeuwarden Declaration: Why and how to drive water innovation in Europe

The Leeuwarden Declaration: Why and how to drive water innovation in Europe

 

 

This declaration presents key findings and a European innovation action agenda that address the urgent need to accelerate the development and uptake of innovation - i.e. innovative approaches, technology and governance - in the European water sector; it was proclaimed at the 3rd conference of the European Innovation Partnership on Water (EIP Water), held in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, on 10 February 2016. The conference was attended by more than 500 scientists, innovators, policy-makers, economists, engineers, resource managers and investors from over 50 countries.

The declaration contains a series of key findings related to eight main topics of the 3rd EIP Water conference and presents a corresponding set of Recommended Actions – a European Innovation Action Agenda – by the participants of the 3rd EIP Water Conference. Participants   recognize that there needs to be a critical mass of women in positions of influence in water management at all levels to be able to face the challenges in an innovative and sustainable manner. They call upon European governments, research institutions and universities, the private sector, industry, development and investment banks, donors, river basin organizations, water and energy/gas associations, multi- and bilateral institutions, community-based organizations, local and regional authorities and all other stakeholders to commit to the following actions for accelerating innovation development in the water sector and removal of innovation barriers in Europe and beyond.

1. The circular economy and water innovation

Key findings

Today’s water services in Europe aim mainly at saving water and improving its quality. However, as a result of urbanisation, coupled with seasonal demand peaks in tourism, and increased competition between various users and economic sectors, water becomes an increasingly scarce resource. A growing global demand for food, feed, fibre, unrenewable resources, critical and residual raw materials in water, the increased challenges of climate change and energy, and the water costs in industrial processes aggravate this situation. Only a systemic and holistic - circular - approach which recognizes used water as a resource can address these challenges. Such an approach must include water and energy efficiency, cascading the re-use of treated or used water as well as recovery of energy (e.g. heat), substances (e.g. nutrients, salts, metals) and/or other resources.

Recommended Actions

The re-use and recycling of water, in a circular economy, has great potential for addressing current and future challenges of water scarcity. It must be approached at the very beginning of the value chain starting from design and production of products and processes that use water, followed by water sustainability and the systematic implementation of the principle of robust water systems. To become a real and obvious solution for water managers, farmers, industry and water utilities, European policy-makers need to address the barriers to water re-cycling, re-use and recovery of raw materials and energy in the water cycle. Furthermore, water efficiency should be considered in each step of the circular approach, including product or process design, production as well as consumption in order to save water as a resource, which also saves energy and materials. A circular economy approach should strive to keep water as a raw ingredient of the design or production process as pure as possible to ensure the pollution prevention principle is implemented, tackling pollution at the source of its generation. This will save water quantity and preserve its quality. We recommend and ask all stakeholders involved in re-use and recycling of water to support the new circular economy strategy presented by the EU Commission in December 2015, including the development of the required approaches and technologies. Equally, we ask all stakeholders to collaborate towards achieving the EU Member State specific circular economy strategy targets related to water re-use.

 

2. Regions and cities and water innovation

Key findings

European regions and municipalities hold fundamental competences to address many water challenges, applying European funds to put in place or renew ageing infrastructure. Urban areas usually have high water needs in quantity and quality with low flexibility, and better water management in rural areas is also an urgent need. Both, urban and rural areas are increasingly affected by disasters - floods or drought - with significant economic loss. The uptake of innovation in urban and rural water infrastructure and water management can increase capacity and reduce the response time to these challenges. Smart and robust water management systems are forcing a paradigm shift from a focus on water supply and ex-ante water quality monitoring to a holistic and near-time approach, where supply and demand are closer linked, and where ecological and socio-economic impacts are better managed. Smart cities (as well as European regions and rural areas) in the river basins/catchments are starting to make headway with this. 

Recommended Actions

We urge regional and municipal authorities to give water innovation a high priority when planning and implementing various measures. These include e.g. smart specialisation strategies, operational programmes and cooperation programmes for cohesion policy, rural development programmes as well as implementing projects in climate change adaptation plans. Systemic innovative approaches in implementing robust water infrastructure systems, new business models, operational management and smart technologies giving space for water can help address major water and cross-sectoral (water-energy-food-biodiversity nexus) challenges, such as demographic and land use changes, ageing infrastructures and asset management and extreme weather events. Strategic, smart and timely investments in innovative and adaptive nature-based solutions and green infrastructure are always more beneficiary and sustainable than investments in post disaster recovery.

 

3. Sustainable Development Goals and water innovation

Key findings

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) are highly relevant to the European Union. SDG 6 to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” is particularly relevant, and significant effort is required to achieve its targets. Furthermore, other SDG’s are strongly linked to water, water management and the particular role of water in agriculture. More innovative approaches can help addressing SDG 6 and other water-related SDG’s and innovation needs in Europe and globally.

Recommended Actions

The Sustainable Development Goals and its targets shall be addressed in an integrated way, and taking stock of the current framework and experiences, as well as innovative approaches and technologies, adapted to the local contexts. The European institutions and Member States shall continue to drive actions to ensure access to adequate and equitable sanitation for all, sound and integrated water resources management, continuous improvement of water quality, increasing water-use efficiency, protecting water-related ecosystems. Equally important efforts are recommended in the expansion of international cooperation and capacity-building support to non-European countries. An EU Action Plan shall be elaborated in 2016 with the involvement of all stakeholders to ensure the achievement of the set of the Sustainable Development Goals and targets by 2030.

 

4. Regulation and water innovation

Key findings

The European Union has a well-developed environmental policy with a mature legal framework, where protecting the environment and maintaining competition go hand-in-hand with job creation and stimulating investment. Ambitious regulation has often been a strong driver for water innovation (e.g. Water Framework Directive, Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, Floods Directive, and Nitrates Directive). Nevertheless, full implementation and alignment of various regulatory domains, such as between energy, floods, agriculture, raw materials and water require more attention and more systemic solutions. Furthermore, harmonisation in regulation and legislation is needed to enable a more rapid and wider uptake of these developments and innovative technologies. A significant area in the water sector is the application of ICT solutions, where the Digital Single Market, a priority of the EU Commission, aims at tearing down regulatory walls.

Recommended Actions

We ask Member States and the European Commission to review and further harmonise water-relevant regulatory domains where such action delivers an added value in terms of environmental, economic and societal benefits. We recommend insisting on joint approaches and harmonisation to enable a more rapid and widespread uptake of innovation, smart business models and integrated IT-based water solutions in rural and urban areas, aiming for a single European Union market that supports the uptake of water innovations.

 

5. Finance for water innovation

Key findings

The overall financial flows entering the water sector in Europe are often insufficient to fully address innovation of infrastructure and management. Various EU Member State initiatives and in particular the European Investment Bank (EIB) with, for instance, its product portfolio InnovFin that is dedicated to innovation investment and support, demonstrate an improvement; furthermore, the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) is a promising development. Support from Cohesion Policy funds, Horizon 2020 and EFSI is highly needed in the water sector to address market gaps and overcome the perception of the risk-reward balance by private investors in key areas such as infrastructure, research and innovation and high risk finance for small businesses.

Recommended Actions

We urge all stakeholders in the water sector, including their representatives at the EU level, to keep innovation – and the necessity for innovation - in the European water sector high on the agenda to ensure adequate, demand-side based access to financial resources, such as from Cohesion Policy funds, EFSI, Horizon 2020 and other public and private sources. Innovation uptake will require proper resources to be available for the water management bodies, supported by adequate cost recovery and water pricing. Furthermore, we recommend the creation of suitable financial and risk-sharing resources, underpinned by support platforms, to overcome the existing innovation barriers and to accelerate innovation and market replication in the European water sector.

 

6. Public procurement and water innovation

Key findings

Public procurement in water innovation occurs where public authorities or agencies buy goods and services as a launching customer, or where the goods or services developed during the R&D phase are to be procured. Fairness and competitiveness are central here. Good progress is made in developing tools, guidelines and help desk functions for procurement of innovative water-related goods and services. However, the uptake in practical terms needs further stimulation. The European  Commission, and in particular the EAFIP - European Assistance for Innovation Procurement - are acknowledged for their work on public procurement of innovation and pre-commercial procurement.

Recommended Actions

Both the European Commission and EAFIP are asked to pay special attention to public procurement in the water and water-dependent sectors by identifying and addressing the specific challenges for the uptake of innovation by public procurers in the water sector. Public procurers in the water sector are asked to make more use of the tools available to increase “public procurement for innovation”.

 

7. Partnerships and water innovation

Key findings

Partnerships are common across Europe in a range of sectors, including the water sector to address new challenges and to deliver projects more effectively and efficiently. Important success factors are clear commitments and political will, effective communication, stakeholder engagement and continuous partnership development during preparation and implementation, and adequate visibility and sharing of risks and benefits. Partnerships in water innovation projects are successful when they include the demand side and key partners of the entire value chain of both, the water sector itself as well as water-dependent/using sectors, such as agriculture, industry and energy, in the early stages of research and development.

Recommended Actions

Public and private sector stakeholders in water innovation are asked to develop and disclose best-practices in partnership approaches. The European Commission is asked to stimulate partnerships by funding and dissemination of best practices, not only in water innovation but also in intersecting domains such as water and energy, ICT, agriculture and others. All stakeholders are asked to apply and benefit from best practices and lessons learned in partnerships and to stimulate their uptake, especially in water innovation activities aiming to achieve the objectives of the EU policies.

 

8. Showcases and demonstration sites and water innovation

Key findings

An insufficient number of showcases, demonstration sites and testing facilities in the water and water-dependent/water-using sectors is a key barrier to support and promote water innovation. Nevertheless, public administrations, research centres, farmers’ associations and private companies are strengthening the presence and visibility of such sites. The EIP Water, with its Online Marketplace and outreach activities, plays a vital role for increasing the visibility of such sites and their promotion which can be further strengthened via cooperation with other European actors and platforms. The host city of the 3rd EIP Water conference, Leeuwarden, shows an excellent case with the Watercampus Leeuwarden.

Recommended Actions

The EU Member States, research institutions and relevant stakeholders are asked to further develop showcases and demonstration sites and increase their visibility for replication and adaptation to domestic and international markets and implementation. The existing water innovation platforms should actively promote the visibility of such sites at European and global level.