Updated: CIWEM calls for incentives to cut CO2

20th August 2013

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UK water companies can cut carbon emissions by 10% every five years, but only if the government sets water consumption targets and introduces financial incentives

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) is urging the government and the water sector’s regulator, Ofwat, to do more to support water companies to tackle their carbon emissions.

In its latest report, A blueprint for carbon emissions reduction in the UK water industry, CIWEM concludes that significant CO2 savings are possible if firms use existing technologies to optimise the efficiency of water treatment facilities and distribution networks, and through the adoption of renewable energy technologies, such as anaerobic digestion.

“The industry could and should be working to reduce its carbon emissions by around 10% per five-year investment cycle,” concludes CIWEM. “This will not be possible through reducing direct industry emissions alone, and more action will be needed to reduce indirect emissions, through a combination of energy efficiency, renewable energy generation and purchase of low-carbon grid electricity.”

CIWEM also says that financial incentives would help encourage water companies to invest in low-carbon measures, particularly new technologies. This could, it says, be as simple as Ofwat allowing longer-term investment cycles – currently firms must show that projects are cost effective within five years.

“The industry is awake to the issue of reducing carbon emissions, with the most ambitious water companies aspiring to carbon neutrality by 2050.” says Alastair Chisholm, CIWEM policy manager and lead author of the report.

“But that ambition is not uniform across the industry, and to achieve this aspiration, incentives are likely to be needed to help drive companies past the easy wins.”

Reducing water consumption will also play a crucial role in cutting emissions, enabling water companies to avoid energy and carbon intensive water treatment processes, states the report.

Widespread adoption of low-carbon rainwater harvesting systems could, for example, cut the amount of potable water being used in homes by up to 20% over 20 years.

CIWEM calls on the government to set targets for water companies to cut water demand, including a 3% annual reduction in water to non-domestic users. It also says the government needs to adopt a more “aggressive” approach to ensuring buildings are water efficient.

“Non-household water-use efficiency could be more actively encouraged,” says the report. “Much more could be achieved through the Building Regulations. Similar principles to those encouraged via the Code for Sustainable Homes could be applied to all new or renovated buildings, with non-household users, including heavy industries and energy generators, required to demonstrate that they are fitting and using up-to-date water efficient systems.”

Meanwhile, EU regulators have confirmed that compliance with urban wastewater collection and treatment rules has continued to improve across the bloc. In 2009-10, 91% of wastewater from Europe’s biggest cities received more stringent treatment – up from 77% in 2007-08.

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