The world’s water systems are threatened by increasing population, pollution and the changing climate. Responding to water-related challenges requires international cooperation in research. Multidisciplinary research that has a societal impact can help protect our water resources, now and in the future.
Water JPI is a pan-European water research programme that seeks to find common solutions for water-related issues. SRIA 2.0 is the programme’s Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda, published in 2016. SRIA 2.0 lays out the water-related themes that scientific research should address right now.
This the second research agenda to be published, and it is an important landmark for the research programme, which will soon celebrate its fifth anniversary. The agenda is divided into themes that approach water from the environmental, industrial or financial viewpoint. The themes are used to channel funding to research that, for example, seeks to secure the availability of clean water or the stability of water-dependent ecosystems.
The Council of the European Union launched a Joint Programme Initiative for the water field in 2011. The main goal of the Water JPI is to establish how sustainable water supply systems can be organised in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Finland has been actively involved in the management and development of the JPI. The participation is coordinated by the Academy of Finland.
Strategic agenda for water research
The new research strategy and agenda has been completed as a collaborative effort by a number of experts, stakeholders and the public.The Director of the Freshwater Centre of the Finnish Environment Institute, Seppo Rekolainen, is the Co-Chair of the scientific advisory Board of the Water JPI.
“Finland has a good reputation and a long history in the management of water-related questions. This is why we have to take more extensive responsibility for matters on the global scale,” says Rekolainen.
There is great versatility in water questions in Europe, as the continent has such a wide array of different types of environments. In southern Europe, aridity is the main issue, whereas in the north the question focuses on water quality. According to Rekolainen, the new strategic agenda successfully covers the different elements of European water issues. It also offers a clear strategic goal for the research and funding in the field of water.
The strategic agenda contains a total of five themes: improving ecosystem sustainability; developing safe water systems for the citizens; promoting competitiveness in the water industry; implementing a water-wise biobased economy and closing the water cycle gap.
At the moment, according to Rekolainen, the water sector needs research to focus on water from an administrative and political approach. The environment is not the only factor contributing to the complexity of the water sector.
“Each European country has distinct socio-economic conditions that influence the introduction of the water industry and new technologies. Identical policy practices cannot be applied everywhere,” he says.
Rekolainen believes that, in the future, research collaboration will increasingly focus on solving global water issues. In addition to the European Commission, 20 European countries are partners of the JPI, with four observer countries. However, the most significant water issues that reflect on Europe are located outside the member countries.
“Research makes it possible to improve common water management in the critical areas,” says Rekolainen.
Partnership for impact
Many different parties involved in the water industry, from researchers to decision-makers, are influential forces behind the research collaboration. The Academy of Finland has coordinated the national support group of the water sector since 2010. Water research institutions, university research institutes and ministries are partners of the support group and hold regular meetings.
“The support group has provided us with important information on the themes that should be integrated in the strategy and on the important questions for Finland and the northern waters,” explains Laura Raaska. Raaska is the Director of the Biosciences and Environment Research Unit of the Academy of Finland and Finland's representative in the JPI’s administration.
Raaska identifies the flexible operational model and interaction as the most important achievements of the initiative.
“As a Joint Programme Initiative, Water JPI has received excellent reviews. The partner countries have shown great commitment in the research programme,” she says.
The programme has managed to expand the collaboration beyond Europe. Asian and African countries have submitted applications in the calls for funding. Furthermore, the water research programme has established a close dialogue with the European Commission and has influenced the Societal Challenges themes of the Horizon 2020 programme.
“The more of us that work together, the better our opportunities for making a difference,” says Raaska.
Encourages Finnish researchers to gain international experience
In its calls for funding applications, the Water JPI seeks research projects of excellent quality that will promote the goals stated in the research strategy. Marko Virta, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Helsinki, is involved in the STARE research project that received funding from the 2013 pilot call. The project focuses on research into spreading and prevention of antibiotic resistance at waste water treatment plants.
“Among Finnish researchers, Water JPI is the most well-known JPI. It's a great asset that the Academy of Finland has taken responsibility for project management here in Finland. The Academy has the adequate scientific and administrative expertise for the task,” Virta says.
The water research programme encourages researchers to take part in international networking. Virta’s research project has representatives from several European countries. For his project, the programming initiative funding model works well.
“We wanted to investigate the situation in various European countries. That's more difficult to do with national funding,” explains Virta.
According to Virta, Europe possesses the potential to be a global pioneer in research focusing on the use and treatment of water.
“The programme drives for, first and foremost, research on water-related societal and financial matters. The positive aspect of JPIs is that their societal relevance has been carefully considered. With relatively small country-specific investments, it's possible to achieve extensive projects,” Virta notes.
The new Water JPI research strategy is available at www.waterjpi.eu.