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The Net Zero strategy must not be the end of Government ambition

With COP26 looming on the horizon the Government finally published its long awaiting net zero strategy this week. With a publication this anticipated ministers will have been expecting some criticism, and it duly came. Political opponents and NGOs lined up to describe the plan as lacking in ambition and bemoan a lack of funding from the Treasury.

With a document running to some 368 pages the devil, however, will be in the detail. Over the next few days business and industry will be joining green NGOs in scouring every line to understand what this new document will mean for them. It may surprise some people to learn that water companies will be doing the same.

Water and carbon aren’t two things that naturally go together in people’s minds, but water is a carbon intensive industry with processes, such as the treatment of wastewater, which are incredibly difficult to mitigate. The sector also has one of the most ambitious net zero targets in the world, referenced in the Net Zero Strategy, with English water companies committing to reaching this goal by 2030 – two decades ahead of the UK target.

Like many others an initial glance at the Net Zero Strategy reveals things we welcome as well as areas where we believe the Government could, and should, go further. It is clear the Government has now grasped the fact we are in a climate emergency, and it is right that we push our friends around the world to match our ambition.

However, we don’t believe the Strategy goes far enough in enabling businesses and industry to play their part in preventing the impacts of climate catastrophe. For water companies a rapidly changing climate would make it increasingly difficult to provide customers with clean drinking water and wastewater treatment in a way that enhances, rather than harms, our natural environment.

Water companies are committed to playing their part but need the Government to help by putting in place strong policies to make this possible. Our 2030 commitment will be increasingly difficult without the necessary strategic support from Government and regulators.

For example, the Heat and buildings Strategy, published at the same time as the Net Zero Strategy, contained many laudable ambitions. But for our homes to be fit for the future they must be water efficient as well as energy efficient and we would have liked to have seen greater emphasis on this in the document. The Future Homes Standard will soon be published, and we hope Government will take that opportunity to embed water efficiency in future decision-making, as recommended by the Future Homes Taskforce.

The Strategic Policy Statement, or SPS, is another opportunity for Government to offer this support to water companies. In our recent response to the consultation, carried out by Defra, we described the draft SPS as a ‘missed opportunity.’ We want the Government to be bolder with the SPS to ensure the water industry can make the significant progress it needs to in addressing the many long-term challenges it faces

The eyes of the world will very soon turn to Glasgow and the world will wait with bated breath to see what transpires. Will China turn up? Will we get the ambitious commitments we need to see? It’s certainly an opportunity for progress that can’t be passed up. For our part we will keep pushing Government to be more and more ambitious for the benefit of our customers and the environment.