Carbon and climate

Carbon and climate

The world faces a climate emergency, caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. The worlds climate has already warmed by 1°C above pre-industrial levels and could warm by a further 2-3°C by the end of the 21st century.

This is our biggest long-term challenge, and we must address it in two ways. Firstly, to reduce the risk of dangerous climate change we must decarbonise all aspects of human activity. Secondly, we need to adapt to the effects of climate change: in our case, drier summers, wetter winters, and more frequent extreme weather events.

Our commitment to net-zero carbon emissions

By 2030, we aim to achieve net zero operational carbon emissions. These are our annual emissions linked to our energy use and transport, plus other greenhouse gases that are emitted from sewage and sludge treatment processes.

However, our goal does not end there. We also aim to achieve net zero total carbon emissions by 2040 at the latest. This includes our operational emissions outlined above, plus emissions linked to construction materials, and consumables such as treatment chemicals.

Our current position

We have been reporting emissions since the late 1990s and targeting annual emissions reductions for more than 10 years.

Our carbon emissions come from:

  • electricity used for pumping and treating water and sewage
  • fossil fuels used on site such as gas and diesel
  • transport
  • contractor emissions
  • process and fugitive emissions – mainly methane and nitrous oxide emitted from sewage and sludge treatment.

Carbon emissions breakdown for the baseline year 2019-20:

Our carbon management work

We have a strong track record of carbon management work including:

  1. avoiding energy use and emissions generation across company activities, eg, developing nature-based solutions, innovative infrastructure repair, and reducing the volumes we pump and treat through leakage prevention
  2.  using energy, where required, efficiently by monitoring and using smart controls on equipment
  3. pioneering work to generate energy from sewage sludge and food waste as we switch our energy use toward renewable sources.

Options for reaching net zero

Background reductions in the UKs carbon footprint, such as the growth in renewable energy generation, will mean that our energy and transport emissions will fall by around one third from our current position. We therefore need to take concerted action between now and 2030.

We will do this through a range of readily-available options including:

  • emissions avoidance measures, such as reducing water use and leakage; increasing the use of lower carbon transport; and promoting nature-based solutions that avoid energy use
  • optimisation measures, such as energy efficiency work and systems for monitoring and controlling nitrous oxide from sewage treatment
  • renewable energy – increasing the amount of biogas that we generate from anaerobic digestion and pursuing opportunities for wind and solar power, either as generators or as the end-user.

However, reductions in background emissions and the most readily-available options will not be sufficient to achieve our goal of net zero carbon. We will need to pursue more innovative options involving emerging science and technology, such as turning sewage sludge into biochar, as well as promoting nature-based solutions. While these methods are not yet well-established, we are assessing their maturity and availability and will take part in trials where appropriate.

Carbon embodied in building and supply chains

We must also address carbon emissions from construction and from the supply chains of goods and services that we use. These emissions are known as embodied carbon.

We plan to develop a whole-life total carbon approach – connecting operation and embodied carbon emissions. This must be central to our decision-making processes to enable our transition into a truly low carbon business. Looking ahead, it will necessarily mean challenging assumptions about the best ways to carry out investment for customers, communities, and the water environment.

We have published our routemap to net zero carbon.

Climate change adaptation

The most severe climate-related threats to the services we provide are extreme weather events including heatwaves, droughts, intense storm events and prolonged rainfall.

While events such as these have happened in the past, climate change is a ‘threat multi-plier’ that increases risks. This means that extreme weather events that are considered possible but unusual by today’s standards will occur more frequently and to a greater in-tensity in future.

In response we have developed a climate change adaptation plan because some effects of climate change are already happening and we must be prepared for the impacts on our activities. This outlines the main climate-related risks that we face and the work that we are carrying out that will help us adapt to them.

We have experience in building resilience to acute weather-related impacts and we build them into our planning activities and risk assessments. Our experience in ensuring we have resilient services will benefit us as we have to adapt to extreme weather events occurring more frequently as the impacts of climate change intensify.