The Clean Water Voice
Advancing the Water Sector’s Climate Progress in 2024: A Strategic Perspective
By: Alexis de Kerchove, Senior Director, Client Sustainability, Xylem
The water sector is at a critical juncture. Changing weather patterns are impacting supply as demand grows, putting utilities under pressure to keep the taps running while meeting mounting regulations. As climate impacts intensify, utility managers face a dual challenge: how to adapt to climate change while mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The outcome of the first global stocktake at COP28 clearly outlines the "critical role of protecting, conserving, and restoring water systems and water-related ecosystems in delivering climate adaptation benefits and cobenefits, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards”.
Policymakers are realizing what water operators already know: the success of our societies and economies depends on our ability to manage water more sustainably.
Accelerating Climate Progress
Water and wastewater infrastructure is a major GHG (Greenhouse Gas) contributor – making up approximately 2% of global GHG emissions. Track records suggest that carbon emissions will only rise. Under a business-as-usual approach, this will almost certainly be the case.
The good news is many of the solutions required to transform how we manage water already exist – and utilities are putting them to work. Water and wastewater utilities are already making huge strides in reducing operational emissions by minimizing electricity use, measuring, and mitigating process-related GHG emissions using efficient technologies. They are also limiting value chain emission by prioritizing suppliers that share the same net-zero objectives.
Though individual utilities are advancing quickly towards net zero, a siloed approach slows us down. Through collective action, we can bridge the emissions gap and scale climate adaptation efforts to deliver for our communities.
This will require cohesive, strategic, and ambitious collaboration to scale the net-zero approaches that are already reaping rewards for many utilities and communities around the world. By openly sharing insights – both the successes and failures – we can propel a rapid industry-wide transformation.
Rowing in Behind Water Utilities
While water is an essential component of climate action, it receives less than 3% of all climate finance. Policymakers have an opportunity to spur climate progress by shaping smart funding programs for emissions-reducing, climate-resilient water projects that serve all communities equitably.
For us at Xylem, our role is also to act as a trusted ally to utilities and businesses in the climate fight. Our customers are our most fundamental partners in addressing the world’s water challenges, and we’re committed to helping them advance the innovative solutions and strategies needed to support mitigation and adaptation efforts.
An ecosystem approach will help the water sector move faster, still. By leaning into industry partners like NACWA that provide a forum for advocacy on critical issues, we can share knowledge, resources and solutions to scale climate action.
The journey to achieving net-zero carbon emissions in the water sector is not a distant goal but an immediate necessity. With stakes higher than ever before, the need for collaboration and partnership is no longer a choice for the water sector – it is a mandate.
Working together, we can win the race to zero.
The views expressed in this resource are those of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect those of NACWA.