Carbon and climate

Carbon and climate

Climate change

The world’s 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. In the view of the United Nations, the UK Government and many other organisations, the level of warming leaves us facing a climate emergency and we must take urgent action if we are to avoid serious consequences. At Wessex Water we are addressing this necessity by:

  • reducing our greenhouse gas emissions
  • adapting to future impacts.
 

Net-zero carbon 

To reduce our contribution to climate change and in line with national and international agreements to limit global warming, we have committed to achieving net-zero operational carbon emissions by 2030, along with the rest of the water industry.
Net-zero carbon emissions result when the greenhouse gas emissions from our opera-tions (commonly expressed as carbon emissions, or carbon footprint) have been neutral-ised.

Our vision is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 with minimal emissions of other atmospheric pollutants.

Our current position

We have been monitoring carbon 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.

Electricity is responsible for the majority of our emissions currently, followed by process emissions (figure 1).

Figure 1 – carbon emissions breakdown for the baseline year 2018-19  

 Activity % CO2 emissions
Total grid electricity used  54.7% 
 Process and fugitive emissions 24.7% 
 Transport 9.8% 
 Direct emissions from burning fossil fuels on site 7.6% 
Contractors and outsourced activities  3.3% 

Our carbon emissions have dropped steadily for the past five years and are projected to continue to fall in the coming five years (figure 2). The primary reason for the decline in emissions is that the carbon intensity of the UK electricity grid has reduced, alongside our efforts to increase energy efficiency and investment in renewable energy

Figure 2 – operational carbon emissions (kilotonnes CO2e)

*note – net emissions are gross emissions minus emissions saved from additional renew-able energy we have exported to the national grid e.g. solar electricity.

Options for reaching net zero

We aim to reduce our emissions as much as possible, following a hierarchy of carbon management (figure 3) that includes a range of measures to do with our own activities. Additionally we are looking at the potential to enhance carbon sequestration in our re-gion.  Buying carbon offsets would only be considered as a last resort.

Avoidance

  • Avoiding emissions
  • Energy efficiency
  • Self generated renewable energy
  • Renewable energy purchased

Netting off

  • Renewable energy exported

Offsetting

  • Sequestration in our region
  • Purchased offsets

Planning routes to minimise fuel use

Promoting energy awareness

Increasing the energy we generate

Looking at new ways of treating organic materials

We have a long-standing portfolio of carbon management work, majoring on energy efficiency and investment in renewable energy generation. These are the main actions we have taken in line with the carbon management hierarchy to date:

1. Avoiding energy use and emissions generation across company activities, eg, by reducing the volumes we pump and treat through leakage prevention.

2. Where energy is required, using it efficiently by monitoring and using smart controls on equipment.

3. Progressively switching our energy use toward renewable sources; particularly in-creasing the amount of renewable energy we generate ourselves – mainly from bio-gas produced from sewage sludge and food waste.

In the near future we expect carbon emissions to fall because of changes happening nationally such as the growth in electric vehicles and energy generation from renewable sources. In the next five years we aim to build on this through further efficiency schemes; reviewing alternative fuels for generators; a more efficient lower carbon vehicle fleet; and leakage reduction. 

Beyond 2025, carbon reduction initiatives could include wind and solar power installations; other sludge-to-energy options and locking-up carbon in sludge as biochar; energy crops and biomass for heat generation; reduction of business journeys; and efforts to reduce supply chain emissions.

Alongside work to prevent emissions, we will investigate the potential to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon sequestration is the drawdown and storage of car-bon dioxide using measures such as tree planting, restoring and enhancing peat bogs and agricultural methods which encourage carbon retention in soil and vegetation. As we approach the 2030 target date, purchasing carbon offsets from the global market would be the last resort for addressing remaining emissions

Route map to net-zero emissions

WaterUK, with consultants Ricardo and Mott MacDonald, are leading work on the water industry’s commitment to achieve net-zero operational emissions. During phase one of the work a baseline for the year 2018-19 was established. Using this baseline, the project team is working towards producing an industry route map to net-zero emissions by 2030.

Informed by the WaterUK project, we are producing a detailed carbon route map of our own, with a strategy for net-zero emissions bespoke to Wessex Water based on measures that are most appropriate, achievable and cost effective for us. This route map will be available in early 2021.

Embodied carbon

Our commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030 includes only operational carbon emissions, ie, those released by ongoing, day-to-day activities. We know that there is also a need to address carbon emissions from construction and from the supply chains of goods and services that we use. These emissions are known as embodied carbon. 

Embodied carbon is rising rapidly up the environmental agenda. We need to move to-wards carbon accounting and management which encompasses carbon emissions from the lifecycle of goods and services as well as operations. This will allow us to make more informed decisions and enable a transition to a truly low carbon business. To this end, we are testing tools that estimate embodied carbon for capital schemes. 

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 oc-curring more frequently as the impacts of climate change intensify.