The climate crisis is the biggest challenge we are facing and we cannot expect politicians to sort it out: we all have a part to play, writes Christine McGourty, chief executive of Water UK

While the world is rightly focused on tackling Covid-19, we cannot lose sight of the greatest challenge facing us all – the climate crisis.

The UK government has already set out an ambitious target to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But a task on this scale, and of this critical importance, is not something we can just delegate to our politicians to sort out. We all need to play our part.

That’s why water companies are today publishing a ground-breaking plan spelling out how, as an industry, we will step up to this challenge by hitting net zero on operational carbon emissions by 2030 – a full 20 years earlier than the UK’s national target. We’re the first sector in the world to develop a plan of this kind and we’ve estimated that we’ll save the emission of around 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gas in the process.

This will require a huge effort by thousands of people in and around the sector, but we believe that if we work together, we can do this in a way that protects customers today and for generations to come.

As a sector dealing with one of the world’s most vital natural resources, we understand better than most the pressing need for action – and we have already made important strides in reducing our carbon footprint. We’ve cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent since 2011 through a variety of schemes, including greater use of renewable energy and the production of biomethane from sewage treatment processes.

This gives us a strong platform to build on – but as a sector responsible for the emission of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas a year, we know there’s more to do.

Our journey to net zero will involve a wide range of initiatives to cut carbon emissions. Earlier this year, we committed to the restoration of 20,000 hectares of grassland and peatland and the planting of more than 11 million trees. Today we’re calling on our partners in government and environmental groups for their support in unlocking more opportunities to deploy solutions that are rooted in nature rather than resorting to the default of more capital- and carbon-intensive infrastructure.

These nature-based solutions will not only help us reach our net zero goal but also help drive the development of a greener economy creating sustainable employment and skills. In addition, through these measures we can help reduce investment costs and protect customer bills.,

The routemap also sets out plans to develop up to three gigawatts of new solar and wind power generation capacity – enough to provide 80 per cent of the industry’s electricity demand. We will also increase the amount of biomethane – a by-product of waste gas produced in sewage treatment works, which could be used as an alternative fuel to heat homes or power vehicles.

There will be a big shift to low carbon transport within our own fleets, with 100 per cent of passenger vehicles going electric, while 80 per cent of our trucks and lorries will use alternative fuels.

We know we don’t have all the answers, and we can’t do it alone, but with this framework in place, each water company will now draw up its own plan to cut emissions, taking account of the particular circumstances and opportunities in their area.

We believe our approach can make a significant contribution to the UK’s overall drive towards net zero. And we stand ready to work with other sectors – and to share our insights and experience – as industries and businesses here in the UK and around the world step up their efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

The routemap we are publishing today has ambitious targets for England’s water companies. But we believe that as responsible, community-based companies we must step up to the challenge and play our part in building a better, more sustainable world for future generations.