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11 November 2022 – With ImpactFest 2022 coming up, Euclid Network wants to take the opportunity to discuss some of the key issues focussed upon at this year’s event. These are namely climate adaptation and the food transition – topics strongly related to water management and increasing water scarcity. This policy statement highlights the potential and current role social enterprises can play in response to increasing concerns and challenges of water management and drought in Europe.

Over the summer, a severe drought affected many regions of Europe – not only in more southern countries. Although the effects of climate change differ throughout Europe, weather patterns and temperatures are changing. Water stress and/or heat stress are becoming more frequent, driving crop yields further down from a previous already negative outlook. All across Europe, from Germany to Italy, and from the Netherlands to Hungary, winter and summer crops have been affected because of different reasons associated with the climate crisis. Urgent action is necessary to avoid further downfall.

Scientific research is clear: drought is an urgent issue that can have dramatic consequences. Various studies rank lack of water among the most impactful hazards because of the loss of life and livelihoods and the adverse social and ecosystem effects. During the past decades, Europe has experienced a series of droughts that caused substantial socioeconomic losses and environmental impacts. Hence, drought and water scarcity are becoming pressing concerns in several regions in Europe, bringing with it dramatic effects on populations’ welfare, food security and natural environments.

It is not only necessary to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but we also have to adapt our water management practices and infrastructure. What was effective in the past, will not always be effective under the current and future climate change conditions. Currently, about 20% of European territory and 30% of Europeans are affected by water stress during an average year. Climate change is expected to only make the problem worse. Finding a rapid and effective solution to persistent drought issues due to climate change must become a priority for policymakers.

To achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, Euclid Network has a number of observations about the potential role of social enterprises presented in this policy statement. Innovative solutions are necessary to tackle water shortages, drought and water management issues. In various fields, social enterprises have already made significant changes and we believe that social enterprises could also be of significant help on water-related issues, as examples will show.

As noted by the European Commission, social enterprises operate on providing services and goods which often have a social and/or environmental objective for their commercial activity. Profits are mainly reinvested with a view to achieving these environmental objectives. Furthermore, social enterprises have proven to act quickly to deploy techniques and technologies and continuously innovate and design new green technologies, utilising digital social innovation to develop new solutions to challenges associated with water scarcity as they continue to emerge and worsen across Europe.

Social enterprises have already proven their capacity to tackle water-related issues as the following examples show. Agrowanalytics, a Spanish start-up, combines irrigation scheduling, monitoring and analysis to irrigate the perfect needed amount and time of a particular crop, achieving up to 30 per cent of water savings. Shayp, another start-up from Belgium, using a platform for real-time flow analytics and remote sensing, focuses on reducing water waste in buildings through leaks and bursts in pipes. These two cases also highlight the utilisation of digital technologies by social enterprises – noteworthy at the time the Transition Pathway for the Proximity and Social Economy is being launched.

There has been much improvement in water quality since the first European laws on water management. The progress made through European investments under the Cohesion Funds and the European Regional Development Fund is notable, however, there has been little progress in the integrated management of water resources. To increase water efficiency, there is a need for public investment in infrastructures and an improvement in cooperation between policymakers, public actors, and non-state actors, such as social enterprises, focusing on positive impact.

As concluded during the ‘Water and Beyond – EU transformative approaches for international partnerships’ conference, partnerships between governments, international and non-governmental organisations and the private sector are crucial in the field of water management, and in particular in response to water scarcity, given the pace at which climate change is taking food across Europe. Euclid Network urges the European Commission to include social enterprises more explicitly in these partnerships. This will also help facilitate the transnational cooperation of social enterprises that operate in different European countries when tackling climate change which is not limited to national borders. Furthermore, it will help alleviate burdens social enterprises currently face, as mentioned in the Social Economy Action Plan.

There are great examples that show how better collaboration between institutions and stakeholders leads to positive results in terms of water distribution. In the Spanish region of La Mancha, close cooperation between farmers, municipalities and river basin authorities achieved a more sustainable use of water. The collaboration included a clear definition of the agents monitoring data and conflict resolution mechanisms. Hence, cooperation is vital to solving drought and climate change-related issues.

Furthermore, Euclid Network urges the European Commission to include social enterprises in policy frameworks, on how to respond to the immediate needs of climate change. The Social Economy Action Plan was warmly welcomed and has been potent for new forms of investment for social enterprises. However, there has been direct no mention of frameworks for social enterprises on water management. Furthermore, the EU Green Deal, the plan that leads the EU’s response to climate change, does not centralise water or social entrepreneurship. Therefore, Euclid Network emphasises the importance of involving social enterprises to make a greener world through a European framework.

Social enterprises have the potential to play a role within the EU as the climate crisis continues and the EU seeks to transition towards a more green and resilient economy. The message is clear: social enterprises can significantly contribute to overcoming drought and related issues in Europe. In order to allow more social enterprises to start-up and scale-up to address these water-related challenges, continued support from private and public investors is required. Furthermore, there must be an appreciation that while social enterprises can be involved in immediate actions to reduce water scarcity, they can also be involved in ongoing projects related to water management.

Euclid Network warmly welcomes the opportunity presented by ImpactFest 2022 to discuss these key issues relating to the food transition and climate adaptation. We have the sincere hope that through this forum and in the future the potential of social enterprises for addressing issues of water management and scarcity can be highlighted and operationalised.

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