Not efficient: Better water saving can help deliver net zero. Photo by Joshua Bartell on Unsplash
While UK governments struggle to bring forward effective delivery of decarbonisation measures in our homes a simple, quick solution to reducing household and business carbon emissions is literally staring us in the face….saving water!
Whilst the role of water efficiency in helping us adapt to climate change and changes in future water availability is relatively well understood, the contribution that reducing water consumption can make to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, mitigating further climate change and reaching Net Zero is often overlooked.
This blind spot is increasingly hard to understand given that water use makes up around 6% of UK GHG emissions and that reducing consumption by just 5-6% could reduce emissions by over 1.2 MtCO2e per year.That is huge and in fact greater than the reductions actually achieved in the whole UK housing sector in both 2017-18 and 2018-19.A 10-12% reduction, which is very doable, cuts UK GHG emissions by around 0.5%.
As if that wasn’t enough, reducing water demand also saves households money on their water and energy bills, frees up water for future growth and the extra water left in the environment helps us address the ecological emergency.
So why isn’t more happening to deliver energy and emissions reduction through wise use of water? Essentially I think it comes down to lack of joined up thinking. Some of this is at government level...for example BEIS focuses on energy policy and Defra on water policy and, to date, things rarely seem to join up. But I think a lot of responsibility also comes down to disconnected, single issue thinking from stakeholders, government advisors, NGOs and consultants who can and should be doing a lot more to help policy makers join the dots.
At Waterwise we are trying to address this. Our annual conference this year included a session on the link between water efficiency and net zero and was chaired by Baroness Brown, Deputy Chair of the CCC. We have set up a new Water & Energy Task and Finish Group to raise awareness of the link and to try to ensure future home retrofits take the “whole house, resource efficiency” approach recommended by the Construction Leadership Council, rather than just focussing on insulation or double glazing. The Water’s Worth Saving national water saving campaign we ran last autumn with Water UK reached over 19 million people with the social media posts on water and energy having the most pick-up from the public.
One live opportunity for join up is the current BEIS consultation on performance standards for commercial buildings.Did you know that 7% of non-domestic buildings in England use over 53% of the total energy used in non-domestic buildings. Meanwhile 1% of businesses in England use over 50% of non-household water.Surely both energy and water efficiency could be considered together in these new performance standards!
Looking forward we can all help…..let’s take every opportunity to highlight the link between water use, energy use and carbon emissions….whatever silo we sit in. Let’s challenge the status quo and make the case for joined up policy and action.
Head of Policy at Waterwise
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