Water conflict danger in EU

11:30 12.03.2024 •

A document obtained by POLITICO shows the European Union will urge capitals to accelerate their preparations for a warming world.

Water scarcity risks sparking conflict among European Union countries unprepared for a warming world, the bloc’s executive will warn next week, according to a leaked document obtained by POLITICO.

The stark message is part of a European Commission communiqué imploring EU governments to pick up the pace in their preparations to counter climate change, arguing they have fallen well short of what is necessary — a blunt warning that will serve as the EU’s last major climate initiative ahead of June’s bloc-wide elections.

In an undated draft of the text seen by POLITICO, the Commission identifies water shortages as an issue that threatens nearly every aspect of life: the food we eat, the water we drink and the infrastructure that powers and transports society, not to mention basic economic activities and human health.

“These risks can manifest in multiple forms, some of which include… increased competition over water resources across sectors and uses, including potential risk of conflicts within and among the Member States over transboundary water resources,” the draft states.

Some regions are already bickering over supplies. In Spain, drought-stricken Catalonia is trying to persuade the Spanish central government to divert river water from neighboring Aragón, fanning political tensions. France last year saw violent clashes over water reservoir plans.  

An increase in water extremes such as floods and droughts is only one of the climate threats facing Europe. The EEA assessment “identified 36 key risks for Europe, several of them already at catastrophic levels and of high urgency,” the Commission document says, without providing further detail.

In general, the Commission says, the EU can expect “more disasters such as droughts, floods, wildfires, diseases, crop failures, heat deaths, infrastructure damage, and structural changes to the environment” — but warns that the bloc isn’t planning for those risks.

The longest France’ river, the Loire, practically dried up in the summer due to severe drought for the last 500 years.
Photo: Reuters

With green policies facing backlash across the EU, the Commission tries to make an economic case for making the Continent more resilient to climate risks. According to a “conservative estimate,” it argues, worsening climate impacts could slash the bloc’s economic output by 7 percent until the year 2100.

Regarding water-related risks, the Commission estimates that the EU could face €1.6 trillion in annual damages from coastal flooding. Since 1980, droughts and floods have cost the EU an estimated €9 billion and €170 billion a year, respectively.

And it’s not just water. The Commission notes that while infectious diseases such as the West Nile virus are expected to become endemic in parts of Europe, “effective medical countermeasures… are scarce or yet to be developed.” Additionally, “all transport infrastructure is at risk from climate change” but there is insufficient investment thus far to mitigate the risks.

Climate impacts are also likely to exacerbate inequality among and within EU countries, with southern Europe hit worse than the rest of the Continent.


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