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United in the Race to Zero

This week, Water UK has been confirmed as one of the first industry trade bodies to join the UNFCCC’s Race to Zero campaign.

The campaign aims to rally leadership and support from businesses and other non-governmental players for a healthy, resilient, recovery as we look towards COP26, and is a critical opportunity for organisations to come together and help drive progress in this space.

Our involvement in the campaign follows hot on the heels of the November launch of the water industry’s Net Zero 2030 Routemap – the first plan anywhere in the world to get an entire sector to net zero by the end of this decade. We don’t claim to have all the answers, but our ambition is that this can be used as a framework for action for water companies here in the UK, and potentially around the world, as we continue to navigate the complexities of meeting our challenging climate targets.

There has been much talk of the 2020s as being the ‘decade to deliver’ on tackling climate change, resulting in a renewed focus on climate mitigation that has been nothing short of spectacular.

In December, the Committee on Climate Change’s 6th Carbon Budget set out more clearly than ever how the eleven main building blocks of the UK economy including transport, fuels, energy, and agriculture can contribute towards a low-carbon future. Importantly, the overarching plan sets out how a G7 economy can achieve net zero quickly and at low-cost – paving the way for international leadership at COP26.

We now have the plan the UK so desperately needed, but the beautiful simplicity of its top-down method belies the complexity of what will follow.

The Carbon Budget comes with a substantial set of policy recommendations for government departments to action, thereby starting one of the most important phases in tackling climate change. Departmental policies and programmes will all have to re-align to the demands of achieving the Carbon Budget and quickly figure out how to re-balance contentious trade-offs, incentivise the right behaviours, support the vulnerable, and adapt to impacts like drought and flooding.

And therein lies the biggest risk to progress – the Carbon Budget process requires that rapid decisions are taken. Major trade-offs will be exposed this year as tried and tested solutions are challenged by the net-zero lens and policymakers across the UK will search for new ways to balance competing objectives. Timelines will be tight and getting those judgements right first time will rely on detailed engagement across multiple government departments and industrial sectors. Collaboration is no longer a nice to have but a necessity.

As part of the Race to Zero campaign, our ambition is that the UK water industry will be able to inspire other sectors to join forces to develop their own net zero plans. Together we will go forward further and faster than we could ever have done alone.