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Climate Change

The impacts of climate change will compound a difficult situation in which our 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.

Photograph of rain on a plant

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’ve already beaten our original target, to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions (scope 1 and 2) by 34% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. We went way beyond that target with a 70% reduction in our net emissions and a 41% reduction in our gross emissions by March 2020.

We self-generated 313GWh or over 23% of our own electricity needs during 2019/20. 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 2019/20, we produced the equivalent of £37 million in electricity from sludge.

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, climate change is likely to have contributed to several extreme weather events. These have all affected our ability to deliver our service to our customers, including:

  • In 2019/20 we had the wettest February on record and the fifth wettest winter overall with two storms, Ciara and Dennis, in quick succession
  • Hottest summer on record for England in 2018
  • Late February and early March 2018 – ‘The Beast from the East’
  • October 2016 to March 2017 - the driest period since 1995/96
  • In 2014 - the wettest English winter since 1766
  • The floods of 2013/14
  • In 2012 - the wettest summer for 100 years
  • Drought in 2010/12

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 have management and business continuity plans to deal with severe weather events that can damage our infrastructure. We monitor short- and long-term weather conditions so we can manage and respond to conditions including:

  • Preparing for how extreme weather, such as low or excess rainfall, could impact the resilience of our water and wastewater assets that our customers rely on
  • Predicting how forecast temperatures might affect infrastructure, and whether fluctuations in temperature require a response
  • Forecasting the temperature to inform how water demand is affected, thereby improving performance
  • Assessing how rainfall patterns could impact our water and wastewater network resilience

During 2020 we'll be working on our regular update to Government on our understanding and preparedness for the impacts of climate change under the 2008 Climate Change Act following on from our 2016 report.

We've reviewed 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 2019/20 Annual Report (see page 52).

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