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Water industry plans to reach net zero carbon by 2030

Ambitious plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the water industry over the next decade take a significant step forward today (Thursday 5th March 2020).

The water industry is the first sector in the UK to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2030, and two international consultancies – Ricardo and Mott MacDonald – will today set out how it can be achieved.

At a major water industry event hosted by Water UK in London, called ‘Delivering a Net Zero Water Sector’, the consultants will present analysis of the work the industry has carried out on carbon reduction so far and set out options for companies to consider as they develop their future plans. The options will include:

  • Reducing emissions caused by wastewater treatment processes – cutting the amount of methane and other gases being released from wastewater treatment works
  • Increased energy efficiency– putting in place cutting-edge systems to manage energy
  • Increasing self-generated renewables– such as solar power and anaerobic digestion
  • Purchasing green electricity– low carbon sources such as wind power and biomass
  • Providing biogas to the energy grid– so other industries have access to low carbon gas
  • Rolling-out electric and alternative fuel vehicles– hydrogen and vegetable oil-powered
  • Moving to electric-powered construction equipment– such as diggers

Speaking ahead of the event, Water UK Chief Executive Christine McGourty said: 

“The water industry has made an ambitious pledge to achieve net zero carbon by 2030. It’s a big challenge, but water companies are committed to protecting and enhancing the environment and intend to be part of the solution to the climate crisis. This new analysis setting out climate-friendly options is an important step forward.”

The water industry has already taken some significant steps to reduce gross operational emissions, cutting them by 43% since 2011 despite a growing population and the impacts of climate change.

Companies have increased their own renewable electricity generation by over 40% in that time and have also changed the way they buy power. There has been a significant increase in the purchasing of green electricity to over 2000 GWh – enough to power all the households in the UK for three days.

The water sector’s lead on committing to a carbon zero future by 2030 forms part of the industry’s Public Interest Commitment (PIC) announced last year, with the carbon zero goal being one of five stretching social and environmental ambitions.

Each of the goals in the PIC is sponsored by one or more water company Chief Executives. The net zero carbon pledge is sponsored by Peter Simpson, Anglian Water; Heidi Mottram CBE, Northumbrian Water; and Liz Barber, Yorkshire Water.

Peter Simpson, Chief Executive of Anglian Water, said: 

“Climate change is not just an environmental issue – it’s the defining societal and economic challenge of our time. The issue is a genuine emergency, we have no time to waste. Achieving net zero is part of our industry’s wider commitment to always act in the public interest.”

Heidi Mottram CBE, Chief Executive of Northumbrian Water, said: 

“As we approach the United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP26 – in Glasgow later this year, the urgency and necessity of taking action has only increased. Britain has sought to be a leader in tackling the climate crisis, which gives all of us in business and industry the potential and opportunity to demonstrate leadership.”

Ian Behling from the Ricardo Mott MacDonald project team, who are helping the industry prepare the carbon zero plan, said: 

“The work we’ve done so far in developing the route map has highlighted the ambition shown by companies and the scale of the challenge to deliver against the commitment. It has also further highlighted the need for collaboration within and beyond the water sector to help deliver the innovation and change needed to meet the net zero challenge.”  

As well as the immediate impact of carbon reductions, the industry intends to share its learnings to help other major energy-using industries to deliver their own plans.

Progress on the net zero carbon goal will be independently assessed each year, with key milestones reported publicly. Individual companies will use the action plan to inform their own detailed approaches to meeting net zero across the industry by 2030.

ENDS

For more information please contact the Water UK Corporate Affairs team on 020 7344 1805 or comms@water.org.uk

Notes to editors

Water companies have already started working towards the carbon zero goal with many programmes and initiatives in place. In addition, there are some other important schemes which will have an impact on the industry’s carbon emissions:

  • A national campaign to encourage the public to switch to refillable drinking water bottles rather than buying bottled water. As bottled water is around 900 times more carbon intensive than tap water, the water industry has been working with partners City to Sea on the Refill campaign, delivering an increase in the number of free refill stations from 1,500 in 2017 to around 28,000 today – and the number continues to grow. In addition, the sector has committed to preventing the equivalent of 4 billion plastic bottles ending up as waste by 2030 through the PIC
  • Cutting leakage even further. Building on a reduction in leakage of a third since the 1990s, water companies in England have committed to triple the rate of leakage reduction by 2030 as part of the PIC and are delivering plans to reduce by a fifth the average amount of water used per person by 2050. This will significantly reduce the carbon and energy used by the sector
  • Plans to plant 11 million trees across the country by 2030. The joint proposals, announced in 2019, will see trees planted on around 6,000 hectares of land across England together with work to restore original woodland and improve natural habitats that provide carbon capture

In addition to the net zero carbon pledge, water companies have also agreed to work together towards four other challenging goals in the PIC:

  • Triple the rate of leakage reduction across the sector by 2030
  • Make bills affordable as a minimum for all households with water and sewerage bills more than 5% of their disposable income by 2030 and develop a strategy to end water poverty
  • Prevent the equivalent of 4 billion plastic bottles ending up as waste by 2030
  • Be the first sector to achieve 100% commitment to the Social Mobility Pledge