NEW REPORT: Europe’s water use putting world under pressure

3 November 2011

Brussels, November 3, 2011 – Europe's material consumption is threatening the world's water supply, according to new research launched today by Friends of the Earth Europe and the Sustainable Europe Research Institute. [1]

The findings come with a warning that Europe is neglecting the catastrophic consequences that water stress and scarcity will have in Europe and in the rest of the world, and with a call to governments to start measuring Europe's overall water and material use.

Europe as a region has the fourth highest per capita consumption of water in the world. Europeans consume more water indirectly through the consumption of products that require water for their production, than directly for cleaning, bathing and drinking. This is because, for example, to create one litre of bottled water nine litres of water are needed in the bottling process, and 140 litres are required to produce one cup of coffee.

Ariadna Rodrigo, resource use campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: "Europe is using more than its fair share of the world's water and this has massive impacts in other countries where water is starting to become very scarce. Behind Europe's high water use is our high-consuming lifestyles and all the water needed for the products we buy, which is why the only answer is an overall reduction in consumption levels. What's worse is that in Europe we still waste huge amounts of food and other products which take a lot of water to make."

Europe's high levels of water use are characteristic of alarming levels of resource use by a minority of the global population. On average each European consumes 4,750 litres of water per day (direct and indirect use), whereas in Africa the average is 3,350 litres.

This imbalance in water use has already resulted in water conflicts in parts of the world where water is scarcest. Paradoxically, many countries with low levels of fresh water use a large part of their water supply for the production of exports to water rich countries.

The report highlights how little consideration is given to the impact on local communities and the local environment of production processes, such as the case of water usage in lithium extraction in Chile.

Ariadna Rodrigo added: "In a world of finite resources, we must address the link between our consumption, economic growth and prosperity in our societies. We need the EU to start measuring and reducing its resource use – this means focusing on quality of life rather than continuing to over-consume our natural resources."

Friends of the Earth Europe believes Europe needs to start measuring its water footprint in order to set targets to encourage a significant reduction of water use. An assessment of water use along the whole production chain needs to be used to determine the water impacts of policies. Alongside this, land, material and carbon footprint measurements should be introduced in EU policy, including product policy. [2]

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NOTES

Friends of the Earth Europe and Fiona Hall MEP invite you to a two-day conference, 'Responsible or irresponsible? Europe's resource use and its impacts', November 8th and 9th, 2011. The conference aims to highlight the environmental, economic and social benefits of moving to a resource efficient future. http://bit.ly/RConf2011

[1] 'Under pressure. How our material consumption threatens the planet's water resources' is available here.

[2] 'Measuring our resource use - a vital tool in creating a resource-efficient EU' is available here.