Motion for a resolution - B9-0393/2022Motion for a resolution

    MOTION FOR A RESOLUTION on the consequences of drought, fire and other extreme weather phenomena: increasing EU’s efforts to fight climate change

    12.9.2022 - (2022/2829(RSP))

    to wind up the debate on the statements by the Council and the Commission
    pursuant to Rule 132(2) of the Rules of Procedure

    Benoît Biteau
    on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group

    See also joint motion for a resolution RC-B9-0384/2022

    Procedure : 2022/2829(RSP)
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    European Parliament resolution on the consequences of drought, fire and other extreme weather phenomena: increasing EU’s efforts to fight climate change


    The European Parliament,

     having regard to Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR) Special Report on Drought 2021 by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction,

     having regard to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed in 2015 and in particular SDG 15,

     having regard to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD),

     having regard to 2021 Global Wetland Outlook published by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat,

     having regard to the Commission’s Joint Research Centre report entitled ‘Drought in Europe - August 2022’,

     having regard to the Commission communication of 16 July 2021 entitled ‘New EU Forest Strategy for 2030’ (COM(2021)0572),

     having regard to the Commission communication of 20 May 2020 entitled ‘EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 – Bringing nature back into our lives’ (COM(2020)0380),

     having regard to the 2019 global assessment of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services on biodiversity and ecosystem services,

     having regard to the European Charter on Water Resources,

     having regard to chapter four of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on Hydrology and Water Resources ,

     having regard to the UN General Assembly resolution of the 28 July 2010 on the human right to water and sanitation,

     having regard to its resolution of 8 September 2015 on the follow-up to the European Citizens’ Initiative Right2Water[1],

     having regard to European Environment Agency report (EEA) No 17/2020 entitled ‘Water and agriculture: towards sustainable solutions’,

     having regard to the World Resources Institute report of 21 January 2020 entitled ‘Achieving Abundance: Understanding the Cost of a Sustainable Water Future’,

     having regard to the EEA report of 14 October 2021 entitled ‘Water resources across Europe — confronting water stress: an updated assessment’,

     having regard to the 2019 Fitness Check for the Water Framework Directive[2], Groundwater Directive[3], Environmental Quality Standards Directive[4] and Floods Directive[5],

     having regard to the IPCC’s assessment reports and special reports,

     having regard to Rule 132(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

    A. whereas 64 % of Europe is under a drought warning and 17 % on drought alert; whereas preliminary data suggest the current drought is the worst for at least 500 years; whereas the average temperature across Europe in 2022 was the highest on record for both August and the period June-August[6]; whereas drier than normal conditions are forecast to persist in the coming months in large parts of Europe, and whereas heat waves and drought reinforce each other;

    B. whereas climate change is already having dramatic effects on ecosystems and human populations; whereas the European continent is warming faster than other parts of the world according to the IPCC, with a temperature increase of 2 °C in 2019 compared to the pre-industrial era, while the global average temperature rise was 1.1 °C; whereas this year’s record-breaking drought is the latest in a series of extreme climate events that are becoming the new normal, increasing in volume and magnitude; whereas, as the water cycle is intensifying with climate change, there will be more frequent and intense droughts, storms and floods;

    C. whereas the World Resource Institute found that six EU countries (Cyprus, Belgium, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy) face high levels of water stress, and projects that by 2030 there will be a 56 % gap between renewable global water supply and demand[7]; whereas the EEA estimates that water stress already affects 20 % of European territory and 30 % of its population, and estimates the cost of droughts in Europe to be between EUR 2 billion and 9 billion annually[8];

    D. whereas climate change has altered Europe’s wind and weather patterns so that high-pressure systems persist, resulting in long periods with little or no rainfall, resulting in crop growing seasons becoming drier; whereas soil moisture contributes to groundwater recharge, soil structure and biota, soil temperatures, and water shortfalls lead to soil erosion and lower crop production inter alia; whereas soil moisture anomalies remain markedly negative in most of Europe due to the lack of precipitation and the heatwaves that occurred in the last months, compared to June 2022;

    E. whereas the EU yield forecasts for grain maize, soybean and sunflowers are the most affected, with reductions compared to the average for the last five years estimated to be, respectively -16 %, -15 %, -12 %; whereas other crops are likely to be heavily affected, especially fodder; whereas the severity of the impacts of droughts and heat waves on agricultural production has roughly tripled over the past 50 years[9]; whereas these lower production levels are particularly concerning given the consequences on the food and feed market of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine;

    F. whereas according to the latest World Atlas of Desertification more than 75 % of Earth’s land area is already degraded and over 90 % could become degraded by 2050; whereas at EU level desertification affects 8 % of the territory, mostly in southern, eastern and Central Europe, covering 14 million hectares; whereas 13 Member States have declared themselves affected by desertification as defined by the UNCCD; whereas desertification is driven inter alia by soil erosion, overgrazing and loss of vegetation cover especially trees, salinisation, loss of soil organic matter and biota and biodiversity degradation; whereas in 2015, the EU and Member States committed to achieving land degradation neutrality in the EU by 2030;

    G. whereas the Water Framework Directive (WFD) states in Article 4(b)(ii) that ‘Member States shall protect, enhance and restore all bodies of groundwater, ensure a balance between abstraction and recharge of groundwater, with the aim of achieving good groundwater status at the latest 15 years after the date of entry into force of this Directive’; whereas 22 years later, only 40 % of monitored lakes, estuaries, rivers and coastal waters qualify for the ‘good’ or ‘very good’ ecological status required by the WFD; whereas the fitness check under the Directive showed that nearly 50 % of water bodies is covered by an exemption, which is unsatisfactory;

    H. whereas water is an essential component of the food cycle; whereas it is necessary that ground and surface water is of good quality and available in sufficient quantities in order to achieve a fair, healthy, environmentally friendly and sustainable food system as described in the Farm to Fork strategy; whereas clean and sufficient water is an essential to implementing and achieving a real circular economy in the EU; whereas the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Strategic Plans Regulation[10] sets the objective of ‘foster[ing] sustainable development and efficient management of natural resources such as water, soil and air, including by reducing chemical dependency’;

    I. whereas agriculture depends on the availability of water; whereas irrigation helps to shield farmers from climate variability and increase yields, but also puts significant pressure on water resources; whereas according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) there is no documented example of substantial water savings from field crops following the introduction of hi-tech irrigation, while, on the contrary investment in improved irrigation technology generally lead to increase in water consumption[11]; whereas in 2016 only 6 % of EU farmland was irrigated but accounted for 24 % of all EU water abstraction; whereas according the European Court of Auditors (ECA) special report on sustainable water use in agriculture, CAP implementation has not been consistently aligned with EU water policy, and failing to improve this could lead to increased pressure on water resources;

    J. whereas water abstraction from open water and groundwater for drinking, industry and agriculture, compounded by extremely high temperatures and lack of rainfall, means increased pollutant and nutrient concentrations and thus incidences of toxic algal blooms and pathogens, as experienced across Europe’s river systems, estuaries and water bodies, resulting in mass freshwater die-offs and fish kills, collapsing fisheries and vanishing livelihoods; whereas high water temperatures also reduce oxygen content with dramatic impacts on fish; whereas diminished river flow coupled with dredging releases concentrated toxins that have accumulated in sediments, with major impacts on downstream aquatic life and fisheries;

    K. whereas 60 % of river basins are in transnational regions, which makes effective transboundary cooperation crucial; whereas 20 European countries depend on other countries for more than 10 % of their water resources, with five countries relying on over 75 % of their resources coming from abroad via rivers[12]; whereas non-compliance with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive in border regions causes deterioration of cross-border bodies of water, which makes it impossible to reach WFD goals in the receiving Member State; whereas while WFD mentioned ‘relevant ecoregions’, in practice cooperation on water is poor; whereas due to resource scarcity the hydropolitical complexity of shared basins is expected to increase; whereas the scarcity of water and allocation rules under European water legislation is likely to become a critical shortcoming; whereas, globally, transboundary water cooperation is needed to provide equitable benefit sharing, avoiding conflicts, fostering the energy-food-water ecosystem nexus, safeguarding sustainable water management and ecosystem protection;

    L. whereas renewable water resources per capita have decreased by 17 % in the European Union over the last 60 years; whereas several EU countries such as Italy, France and Spain, have had to ration drinking water in recent months due to drought, with, for instance, more than 100 municipalities in France currently having to rely on drinking water delivered by trucks; whereas water leaks account for 24 % of total water consumed in the Union;

    M. whereas annual river flows are decreasing in southern and south-eastern Europe and increasing in northern and north-eastern Europe; whereas hydropower generation and power plant cooling systems are being severely impacted; whereas the Adaptive Management of Barriers in European Rivers (AMBER) project demonstrated that Europe’s rivers are blocked by more than 1 million barriers, with over 85 % small structures in poor condition or inactive; whereas all barriers impact river health and the water cycle, changing a river’s natural flow and blocking fish migration routes;

    N. whereas reduced stored water volume has had severe impacts in the energy sector for both hydropower generation and cooling systems of other power plants; whereas this summer’s droughts exacerbated the severe energy market squeeze Europe is experiencing;

    O. whereas nuclear power production is dependent on water resources; whereas many nuclear power plants had to slow down their activity during the summer due to drought, increasing safety risks; whereas to maintain power production, five French nuclear plants have been granted derogations to environmental norms regulating the temperature of the water released into the environment[13]; whereas this could lead to further impacts on aquatic ecosystems already affected by the heatwaves;

    P. whereas the growing water needs of industrial activities compete with agricultural irrigation and create tensions within rural areas;

    Q. whereas many tourist activities are dependent on rivers and water shortages currently affect 17 % of the EU’s territory, while the situation is more worrying around the Mediterranean where about 50 % of the population lives under constant water stress during summer, and many tourist attractions had to suspend their business activities because of the drought;

    R. whereas the lack of precipitation and massive water withdrawals for irrigation has had an impact on river transport, generating supply difficulties for heavy materials, in particular in the Rhine valley, which is having a negative impact for many sectors of activity;

    S. whereas deforestation and forest degradation in watersheds jeopardise water availability; whereas forests are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, in particular the increasing prevalence of forest fires; whereas years of drought and degradation have created ideal conditions for wildfires to spread; whereas Europe is experiencing forest fires of dramatic proportions;

    T. whereas more than 5 million hectares of forest has burned in the 10 years between 2011 and 2021, primarily because of droughts; whereas wildfire activity between 4 June and 3 Sept alone resulted in 508 260 hectares of total cumulative burnt area[14], with the EU’s capacity to fight forest fires reaching its limits;

    U. whereas stable, mixed, multi-age, multi-species forests with continuous cover provide many co-benefits, notably drought and heat mitigation; whereas agroforestry systems and trees incorporated into agroecosystems also provide many benefits, including productivity and resilience;

    V. whereas the UN estimates that globally 35 % of wetlands have disappeared since 1970, at a rate three times faster than natural forests, despite providing many benefits; whereas coastal wetlands such as mangroves sequester carbon up to 55 times faster than tropical rainforests, while peatlands, which cover only 3 % of the earth’s land surface, can store 30 % of all land-based carbon only when wet, and absorb excess water to prevent floods and drought; whereas according to the Commission, in the EU about two-thirds of EU wetlands that existed 100 years ago have been lost;

    W. whereas the UN General Assembly recognised the right to water and sanitation as a human right on 28 July 2010; whereas clean drinking water is essential to all human rights; whereas 1 884 790 citizens signed the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) entitled ‘Right2Water’ in 2013 on the right to water and sanitation; whereas today, 1 million EU citizens have no access to water and 8 million have no sanitation;

    X. whereas the drought is worsening people’s living conditions because of heat and lack of water; whereas the most deprived are being disproportionately affected; whereas there is an excessive death rate in the European countries most severely affected by the drought; whereas access to adequate housing is a fundamental right; whereas drought causes cracks in the most fragile buildings, deteriorating the quality of life of the inhabitants; whereas drought also has an impact on mental health, reinforcing eco-anxiety, especially among young people; whereas high temperatures also coincide with increase suicide rates; whereas men and women are impacted differently by climate change; whereas women may be more vulnerable to extreme high temperatures, especially those in the oldest age groups;

    Y. whereas the drought, fire, extreme ambient temperatures and other extreme weather phenomena also have growing impacts on occupational health and safety, impacting more and more workers, particularly workers in the agriculture and forestry industries, in the building and health sectors, and firefighters; whereas heat is a major health risk for workers working outdoors, causing dehydration, heat exhaustion and heatstroke, as well as loss of consciousness and heart attacks in the most extreme circumstances; whereas the use of personal protective equipment in extreme heat conditions is particularly challenging; whereas extreme weather patterns also affect mental health, causing disorders such as anxiety, mood disorders, stress and depression; whereas the increasing unpredictability of extreme weather conditions and financial losses caused by them will add to this pressure;

    1. Recalls that in line with the EU Climate Law and the other legislative and non-legislative climate texts, the European Union should step up its climate action both on mitigation, to contain global warming below 1.5 °C compared to pre-industrial levels, and on adaptation to foster resilience; calls on the Commission to update the EU’s nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement and increase its greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030 to 65 % compared to 1991 levels at the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) in Egypt;

    2. Welcomes the draft EU nature restoration law, which should be further improved in order to provide a framework for the restoration of drought-resilient ecosystems, including the restoration of multi-age, multi-species forests with continuous cover, wetlands, natural vegetation cover, floodplain dynamics, landscape-wide natural infiltration and improving river basin resilience;

    3. Calls on the Commission to coordinate the development of comprehensive regional or national plans from well to final use in order to tackle water leakage and seepage due to low-quality or poorly maintained infrastructure, including at basin, urban and farm level, and to exchange best practice for this purpose;

    4. Highlights the positive role agroecology and organic production systems play in safeguarding water quantities and quality by increasing resource use efficiency and circularity, improving farm level resilience by reducing inputs and diversifying production and therefore dispersing risk, which is especially important for avoiding total crop failures; recalls that planting hedges and trees, ensuring soil cover, avoiding overgrazing, reducing compaction and building up soil organic matter and humus levels are useful for farmers;

    5. Calls on the Commission to ensure that CAP national strategic plans are implemented with a view to rendering European agriculture less dependent on irrigation and more drought-resilient, while overall reducing hydromorphological pressures, taking into account the findings of the ECA special report on sustainable water use in agriculture;

    6. Underlines the need for more efficient and targeted agricultural irrigation systems and for an overall recalibration of irrigation needs; calls for investments in irrigation to only be supported if they do lead to a net reduction in the water used for irrigation in their catchment area; underlines that investment in ecosystem restoration and production methods transitioning towards agroecology should be prioritised;

    7. Underlines the importance of soil quality for water retention and filtration; calls on the Commission make water retention and cleaning capacity as well as soil moisture a key pillar of the draft EU soil health law which will be published in 2023;

    8. Calls for a binding EU objective of land degradation neutrality in the EU by 2030 in line with the ECA special report on desertification, as the 2015 commitment by the EU and Member States has not put the EU on track to addressing this issue;

    9. Highlights the need to speed up the reduction of the contamination of groundwater and surface waters, in particular by nitrates and pesticides;

    10. Underlines that globally ‘megafires’ are increasing in intensity and frequency; is concerned about the projected expansion of fire-prone areas and longer seasons with a high risk of fires in most European regions, in particular in high emissions scenarios; recalls that a diverse landscape with biodiverse forests provides a greater bulwark or natural barrier against large-scale and uncontrollable forest fires; stresses that the restoration of biodiverse forests would promote fire prevention and containment; underlines the need for more resources for and the development of science-based fire management and capacity-building support through advisory services to tackle the effects of climate change in forests; calls on the Commission and the Member States to better promote and use integrated fire management plans, and notes that this may require better regulatory capacity in the Member States, the strengthening of public services, and dedicated support for and increased cooperation on disaster prevention, preparedness and response; highlights the importance of further developing and making full use of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism for forest fires and other natural disasters; calls on the Commission to collect and disseminate knowledge among the Member States on how to adapt forests to current and expected climate change, in line with the new EU adaptation strategy; invites the Commission to create forest fire risk assessments and maps on the basis of improved Copernicus products, artificial intelligence and other remote-sensing data, in order to support preventive action; highlights the importance of boosting the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to ensure adequate forest fire fighting capacities in the EU;

    11. Highlights that the severity of some natural disasters is in some cases also the result of man-made factors, including inappropriate spatial planning leading to the construction of housing and infrastructure in flood plains of rivers or in landslide-prone territories; reiterates, in this regard, that EU Solidarity Fund payments should favour stronger resilience and sustainability, with the financing of ecosystem-based solutions (e.g. reforestation, habitat restoration, especially of wetlands, and earthquake-proof reconstruction);

    12. Calls on the Commission to present a comprehensive EU water quantity and allocation strategy, including the organisation of a European water conference in order to rapidly develop criteria for a fair allocation of water in water basins between Member States and to propose clear priorities for different uses for multi-annual droughts; calls for this strategy to take into account the human rights-based approach and the ‘do no significant harm’ principle, to prioritise health, civil and drinking uses followed by biological and ecosystem uses and finally economic uses; calls for this strategy to also include mechanisms for the renegotiation of the water quantities drawn by different stakeholders;

    13. Points out that the energy sector is the largest consumer of water in Europe, accounting for 44 % of consumption, and that the water sector itself consumes substantial amounts of energy for water abstraction, pumping, heating, cooling, cleaning and desalination; highlights that improved water efficiency can have a direct impact on the reduction of energy consumption and climate change; calls on the Commission to support increased Member State efforts to increase the use of water reuse techniques, water-saving irrigation technologies and practices, green roof technologies, smart showers and toilets in the water sector, including supply, sanitation and storm-water management, and across all industrial, residential and commercial water cycles and applications; calls for the amendment of current legislation to encourage the reuse of water in industries that use a lot of water while respecting the strictest quality criteria, as well as in offices and homes by reusing grey water;

    14. Notes the surge in energy crops, such as rapeseed, palm oil, soybean, wheat, maize, etc., which are produced for biodiesel and ethanol, which require water for their production, in effect competing with water use for food crops;

    15. Stresses that across Europe, many people live in outdated and run-down housing and unsatisfactory living conditions, making them more vulnerable to the impacts of extreme weather patterns; calls for the swift adoption of an ambitious social climate fund in order to support the most disadvantaged groups, in particular to increase the energy efficiency of their homes, decarbonise their heating and cooling systems, including by the integration of energy from renewable sources, which will enable them to lower their energy bills and also improve their quality of life;

    16. Underlines the importance of preventing the financialisation of water in order to ensure fair access and good resource management; calls for a ban on water trading on European stock exchanges; invites the Commission and Member States to collaborate with the USA to prevent the impact on European water availability as a result of trading in water on the American stock exchange;

    17. Calls on the Commission to refrain from further encouraging water service privatisations, pursuant to Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, as there are no demonstrated advantages and as it has fostered corporate capture; calls on the Commission to create a database making public the state of the resource and water reserves held by private individuals which collect water in a water management plan;

    18. Recalls the states’ obligations to ensure the human right to drinking water, which entails, for instance, the setting-up of participation mechanisms, including the implementation of the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of Indigenous People and Local Communities for large-scale energy infrastructure (such as dams) and extractive industries, the systematic recognition of customary rights to drinking water and the provision of justiciable remedies (through a complaints mechanism) in case of human rights violations; underlines, further, the need to involve EU citizens in water management;

    19. Highlights the role of EU trade policy in achieving the implementation of the fundamental human right to water; calls, to this end, for the inclusion of water-related provisions in EU trade agreements as ‘essential elements’ clauses;

    20. Recalls that health and safety of workers is an EU competence and that in line with Directive 89/391/EEC[15], workers should be protected from any risks, including emerging risks; calls on the Commission to thoroughly and urgently assess the new and emerging risks of climate change on occupational health and safety in order to better protect workers from exposure to higher temperatures, natural ultraviolet radiation and other related and safety hazards;

    21. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission and the governments and parliaments of the Member States.


    Last updated: 13 September 2022
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