Under the lead of OECD, the EU4Environment Water & Data Programme organised in Vienna on 28 and 29 June 2023 a Regional Workshop on Facilitating the financing of water and environmental resilience in the Eastern Partnership Countries, followed by a day of site visits to see Nature-based Solutions in action around Vienna. Held back-to-back with the Second Regional Action Group Meeting, which monitored progress on programme implementation, the workshop provided a space for dialogue on finance for building water and environmental resilience, with participation from national governments of the EaP countries, civil society representatives, EU Member States active in the EaP region, the European Commission and International Financial Institutions.
Exchange on the challenges and opportunities for financing water and environmental improvements in the EaP countries
On the morning of Wednesday 28 June, the team reviewed progress in implementation since the end of the Inception Phase in June 2022. Senior EaP stakeholders gave their feedbacks on the implementation of the programme to date and strategic advice towards planning the next implementation phase.
On the afternoon, the participants exchanged on the challenges and opportunities for financing water and environmental improvements in the EaP countries, as well as the goals of the EU’s Economic and Investment Plan (EIP) towards environmental resilience. Participants discuss the implementation of River Basin Management Plans, the potential for new technologies and approaches including Nature-based Solutions, and the opportunities presented by a “Team Europe" approach to the water and zero pollution thematic.
Action on finance under the EU4Environment Water & Data programme is focused on the implementation of RBMP Programs of Measures (PoMs), including Nature-based Solutions (NbS). This includes developing recommendations on domestic finance mobilisation through instruments such as water tariffs and taxes, assessing national enabling environments for water finance, and identifying innovative and cost-effective approaches. NbS can be cost-effective tools in the RBMP PoMs, for example through effluent treatment wetlands, the reconnection of rivers to floodplains for flood management, and NbS focused on habitats restoration.
Several investments projects to address the finance gap in water
Since 2016, River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) for 12 pilot river basins in the EaP countries have been refined or newly developed with EU support. Their official approval is advancing. Improved water management in these basins will benefit 30 million people and will concern 390,000 km². Transboundary cooperation is improving in several river basins: Kura and its sub-basins Araz and Khrami-Debed, Dniester/Nistru, and Danube. However, though the average needed investment cost is estimated at EUR 25 per inhabitant per year, water infrastructure in the region chronically lacks investment in capital, maintenance and repair.
To help address the finance gap, several water investment projects are under way. The EU has leveraged funding in cooperation with several multilateral and bilateral providers of development finance, including AFD, EIB, EBRD, KfW, and NEFCO. EUR 35.5 million was allocated to two consecutive regional programmes (2016-2021 and 2021-2024) in the water sector, implemented by Austria, France, the OECD, and UNECE. In the context of Russia’s war of aggression, EU funding has contributed to 6.9 million people in Ukraine regaining access to clean water. The Multiannual Indicative Programme 2021-27 supports a regional Team Europe Initiative on Water and Zero Pollution to increase impact.
Working with nature can reduce costs
Participants joined the experts from the Environment Agency Austria (UBA) on Thursday 29 June for on a full day of site visits to learn about EU good practices and how Nature-based Solutions can be effectively implemented.
Through the site visits, participants had the opportunity to learn about different types of Nature-based Solutions and discuss the practicalities of identifying, financing, designing, and implementing Nature-based Solutions, with a focus on what can be effectively implemented in EaP countries. The following NbS projects were presented to participants: restoration on urban creeks (for flood protection, biodiversity and recreation), re-introduction of threatened sturgeon species (sterlet), fish migration over hydrodams (bypass), and groundwater recharge (improving difficult state for agriculture/irrigation/drinking water supply).
If working with nature can reduce costs, participants learnt that monitoring the impacts and effect is a key for the successful implementation of Nature-based solutions.The meeting documents, including all presentations, can be found on the meeting webpage.