17% of Europe’s population faces high risk of water scarcity by 2050

Posted on August, 16 2022

As Europe reels from historic heatwaves, droughts and record low river levels, a new analysis by WWF estimates that 17% of the continent's people and 13% of its GDP could face high to extreme water scarcity risks by 2050 - unless urgent action is taken by governments and businesses to boost the resilience of societies and economies, particularly through Nature-based Solutions.
Europe’s rivers are currently feeling the heat, with four of the continent’s most important rivers - the Danube, Po, Rhine and Vistula - facing record lows, threatening business, industry, agriculture and even drinking water supplies for communities.
The new analysis - using the climate and socio-economic scenarios in WWF’s Water Risk Filter tool - shows Europe will be even more prone to droughts and water scarcity, and provides a clear picture of the regions at greatest risk.
“Droughts in Europe should not shock anyone: water risk maps have long pointed to worsening water scarcity across the continent. What should shock everyone is that European governments, companies and investors keep turning a blind eye to water risks as if they will solve themselves - they won't,” said Alexis Morgan, WWF Water Stewardship Lead. "We need urgent action to mitigate these water risks, particularly by investing in Nature-based Solutions to enhance the health of Europe’s rivers, lakes and wetlands.”
The WWF Water Risk Filter analysis covers the entire continent but highlights countries that are likely to face the greatest risks by 2050, such as Greece where 82% of its population and GDP could come from areas of high or extreme risk. Meanwhile, three quarters of Spain’s population and GDP could face high risk, while cities within the Guadalquivir river basin (e.g. Sevilla, Murcia, Granada and Cordoba) are expected to suffer the highest scarcity risk by 2050.  
Healthy rivers will be key to building resilience and adapting to the impacts of climate change. But 60% of Europe’s rivers are currently unhealthy, despite the EU Water Framework Directive’s legal obligation to protect and restore Europe’s freshwater bodies and ensure all achieve good status by 2027.
"Enforcing this strong law will foster investments in protection and restoration of freshwater ecosystems, which will be central to building societies and economies that are more resilient to drought,” said Claire Baffert, Senior Water Policy Officer, WWF European Policy Office.
Water risks have long been regarded as one of the top risks facing businesses, ranking in the World Economic Forum’s top 5 global risks by impact for a decade. This analysis shows how water scarcity risks could increase, threatening even greater losses for businesses and investors - and communities.
Local water authorities in Germany reported that Tesla’s factory outside Berlin will exhaust the area’s water supply, preventing any further development in the area. Northern Italian regions risk losing up to half their agricultural output due to the ongoing drought, with damages already set to exceed one billion euros.
"This year's droughts and these alarming forecasts of increased water scarcity risk are another wake up call - another urgent warning about the need for action on water,” said Alexis Morgan, WWF’s Water Stewardship Lead. “All companies and investors must assess their current and future water risks and collectively respond to build more resilient businesses - reducing risks to their operations and assets as well as to communities across the continent."
The best place for companies and investors to start assessing their water risks is the WWF Water Risk Filter - a free, online water risk assessment tool, which is trusted by thousands of private sector actors across the globe, including H&M Group, retailers EDEKA and Migros, food and beverage companies Alpro and Carlsberg, pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, bio-technology company Novozymes, and many more, as well as the German Development Bank DEG KfW and the UK Development Bank BII.
The Water Risk Filter enables companies and investors to prioritize action where it matters the most to address their water risks and build resilience.
Dry river bed near Sasik Liman. Lower Danube river basin. Ukraine

Related links

Water scarcity risk in Europe by 2050 based on analysis of scenarios in WWF Water Risk Filter
© WWF Water Risk Filter
Nature-based Solutions can help mitigate floods and droughts
© WWF-Hungary