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Climate Change

The projected impact of climate change in our region will add to a difficult situation where water resources are already stressed, and the population is increasing. We believe reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and managing the impacts of climate change on our business is essential. This approach will help us to manage the challenges that climate change represents to delivering water and wastewater services.

You can download our update to the Government on our understanding and preparedness for the impacts of climate change under the 2008 Climate Change Act following on from our 2016 report. You can find out more about what we’re doing to tackle climate change and how we’re responding to the threat of increasingly turbulent weather patterns throughout this report.

A view of boats sailing on a reservoir with the sun setting in the sky.

Reducing our GHG emissions

We believe it's important to set our sights high to help keep global warming below 1.5oc. In 2019/20, we pledged to reduce our net carbon emissions from our operations to zero by 2030. This underlined our commitment to mitigate climate change twenty years ahead of the recently announced Government target. And we don’t want to stop there – we’re committed to going beyond net zero by 2040. We have a dedicated page on our website looking at how we're working towards net zero.

For the last 30 years, we’ve been on a journey to reduce our carbon emissions and we beat our first target by reducing our emissions by 578 ktCO2e between 1990 and 2020, while customer numbers increased by more than 4 million. Our net operational emissions were 268.3 kTCO2e in 2020/21. One of the ways we did this was by self-generating around 23% of the electricity we used, harnessing wind, solar and poo power.

We self-generated 311GWh or over 23% of our own electricity needs during 2020/21. As well as reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and having a positive impact on the environment, self-generating our own electricity makes even better use of valuable resources and reduces our electricity costs. During 2020/21, we produced the equivalent of £35 million in electricity from sludge. This is not something new, we’ve been producing our own sustainable energy at Mogden Sewage Treatment Works since the 1930s.

A person standing with a watering can spraying water on plants and flowers.

Managing the impacts of climate change

The impacts of climate change are already being felt by our business. In simple terms climate change is a long-term shift in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather. Over the past few years alone, we have experienced a range of extreme weather events. These are examples of the type of weather events that can impact on our ability to deliver our service to our customers.

  • 2020 - wettest February since 1862
  • 2019 – hottest temperature on record of 38.7°C in Cambridge
  • 2018 - freezing weather ‘The Beast from the East’ in February/March
  • 2016/17 – the driest October to March period since 1995/96
  • 2016 - heatwave, torrential downpours and flash flooding in South East England
  • 2014 - twelve major storms cause widespread damage
  • 2013/14 - major flooding in the South East and South West of England
  • 2010/12 - multi year drought

It’s widely accepted that climate change is a serious issue and a major challenge to society. However, it's almost impossible to predict the full extent and precise timing of its impacts. This makes planning for issues extremely challenging to ensure we continue to provide the essential water and wastewater services to 15 million customers from nearly 7000 operating sites.

We regularly review the potential impacts of climate change on the business. We found that our key issues are still broadly related to either too much, too little or the wrong sort of water. This challenge is reflected in performance commitments which were agreed with our regulator, Ofwat. These were included in our business planning period which ended in 2020. Our performance on these metrics can be seen in our 2020/21 Annual Report and Sustainability Report and our Annual Performance Report.