Water resources are vital for all human activities and the environment. Ensuring that enough water of high quality is available for all purposes remains a key challenge globally and within Europe.
Global trends project world-wide growth in water use by 55% by 2050, due to growing demands from manufacturing, thermal electricity generation, agriculture and domestic use, all increasing the pressure of human activities on our freshwater resources. Furthermore, water quality is declining due to agricultural, industrial, mining and urban pollution, impacting the availability of water of sufficient quality for users. According to the recently released Global Assessment by the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and ecosystem services (IPBES), freshwater biodiversity is declining rapidly. Hydrological extreme events, such as floods and droughts, are going to increase, according to the latest IPCC conclusions, exacerbating the water crisis and impacts across all economic sectors.
Achieving good status of Europe’s surface waters and providing enough water for all, is not only important for the implementation of EU water related policies, it is also an essential element for achieving other EU related policies, such biodiversity, agriculture, climate and energy related policies. Water is also central to all components of the European Green Deal. There is, therefore, a need to produce science-based knowledge to support the European Green Deal and other EU policies by monitoring problems related to water and developing feasible technical and managerial solutions.
Water is a dedicated UN Sustainable Development Goal (namely SDG6) but it will not be achieved by 2030 at current rates, considering trends in financing, capacity and political commitments. This will also undermine progress towards most of the other SDGs, particularly the goals related to poverty, hunger, health, clean energy, cities, climate, life below water and life on land, but also gender equality and peace, which are all related to water.
The diversity of challenges we are now facing to secure water for all, requires a new co-funded partnership that brings together all public and private research funders and supports a more efficient collaboration and integration of EU, Member States and Associated Countries R&I activities related to water. This will ensure a transition to a healthy planet, respectful of planetary boundaries, a resilient Energy Union, and implementation of an EU policy of climate neutrality, in line with Horizon Europe priorities.
It also requires the alignment and/or integration of different research and innovation agendas and of EU and national programmes, coordination of funding agencies and commitments to implement a long-term strategy that would deliver major changes and impacts. Based on a shared and co-constructed SRIA, such a partnership should combine bottom-up and top-down approaches to reconcile needs whilst pooling resources from different sources. It should foster consortium building and help leverage between existing initiatives under common broader or specific objectives. This will give direction and shape to a common water implementation strategy.
A European partnership is also necessary to deliver an objective and impact-driven approach and build critical mass in resources (human and financial), expertise and capacities in the longer-term, in line with the challenge faced. This would allow for the mobilisation of additional national resources with access to other instruments / financing / investments along the same strategic research agenda (e.g. real-life testing sites, research infrastructures, and innovation hubs or competitiveness clusters), contributing from collaboration that benefits existing European, national and local ecosystems.
Tackling the global challenges also requires different forms of cooperation (to maximise the types and number of partners involved). This would allow implementation of a larger range of types of actions, such as development of academic and applied research, innovative solutions, including collaboration with enterprises in projects, transfer of innovation to enterprises, addressing the science/policy interface, while having better access to research infrastructures and connections to implementation tools (financial, regulatory), demonstration and training.
The co-funded European Partnership Water Security for the Planet (Water4All) should address the following vision: “Boosting the systemic transformations and changes across the entire research – water innovation pipeline, fostering matchmaking between problem owners and solution providers to ensure water security for all in the long term”.
Water4All should propose a portfolio of multi-national, multi-faceted and cross-sectoral approaches, encompassing policy, environmental, economic, technological and societal considerations to enable water security for all in the long term. It should therefore be implemented through a joint programme of activities ranging from research and innovation programme coordination to new knowledge and innovation development, transfer to policy-making, operational implementation and demonstration of the efficiency of solutions. It should be structured according to the following pillars:
- Identify research and innovation priorities to strengthen alignment of EU and national RDI programmes and increase the impact and policy relevance.
- Develop new knowledge and innovative solutions for a systemic and inclusive approach to water challenges at operational scale (e.g. river basin, water catchment).
- Transfer knowledge and innovation to i) policy-makers and ii) operators / managers so that they are able to implement the proposed solutions.
- Demonstrate the efficiency and the sustainability of the proposed solutions at local level, in close cooperation with the relevant actors (including policy-makers and decision-makers).
- Increase and strengthen international cooperation to develop a critical mass in relation to the global challenges faced.
This will create a continuum from the identification of the challenges to the demonstration of proposed solutions, ensuring a more rapid translation of research and innovation into concrete applications and uptake by relevant managers and citizens.
Water4All should rely on a core group composed of R&I programme owners and funders from ministries in charge of R&I policy and agencies, policy makers from ministries in charge of environmental policy and environmental / water protection agencies, from the EU, neighbouring countries and beyond the EU, as core members, in close cooperation with a wide range of other research and economic actors (multinational corporations, suppliers & SMEs, research & technology developers, water utilities, civil society organisations). Partners are expected to provide financial and/or in-kind contributions for the governance structure, the joint calls, and other additional activities. To achieve the international cooperation objectives, collaboration with non-European countries is strongly encouraged.
The partnership is open to all EU Member States, as well as to countries associated to Horizon Europe and will remain open to such countries wanting to join.
To ensure the coherence and complementarity of activities, and to leverage knowledge investment possibilities, the partnership is expected to foster close cooperation and synergies with other ongoing EU and nationally funded R&I activities, the Horizon Missions on Healthy Soils; on Ocean, seas and waters; on Climate Adaptation and on Cities, relevant Horizon Europe partnerships (Chemical Risk Assessment, Driving Urban Transition, Waterborne, Biodiversity, Blue Economy, Safe and Sustainable Food System, Agro-ecology living labs) and other programmes/initiatives (such as Cohesion Policy funds, LIFE programme, COST actions, Development and International Cooperation funds, ESA/Copernicus, KIC Climate, PRIMA, follow-up of BONUS). Proposers are expected to describe in details the way to implement such collaborations.
Proposals should pool the necessary financial resources from the participating national (or regional) research programmes with a view to implementing joints call for transnational proposals resulting in grants to third parties.
The Commission envisages to include new actions in future work programme(s) to continue providing support to the partnership for the duration of Horizon Europe.