The COP26 conference presents an opportunity for the UK water sector to showcase its decarbonisation ambitions to the rest of the world, according to the industry’s trade body.

However, Samuel Larsen, Water UK’s programme lead on the Net Zero 2030 Roadmap, warned that the sector must be transparent on where and how it uses offsetting to reach its goal.

Water UK today (14 January) became the first industry trade body to be made an official partner to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign, which aims to encourage radical thinking on decarbonisation across business, investors and communities. Anglian and Severn Trent are the first companies to join the campaign under the Water UK umbrella.

Larsen told Utility Week that Race to Zero was an important tool in building a cohesive strategy for decarbonisation that represented the breadth of society.

He said: “It’s about socialising what we are doing, raising the leadership bar and testing that everyone is moving in the right direction.”

He stressed that 2021 was a critical year for the water sector’s ambitious plans to hit net zero by the end of the decade and that there was an opportunity to display progress at the UN climate conference in November.

He said: “COP is massively important. It’s the first time water has had it’s own silo. There’s a sense that water finally has a seat at the table. Through the work the UN is doing they’re highlighting the fact that water is really of equivalent importance to something like the power sector, which up until now has probably had a bit more of the limelight.

“We’re the first water sector in the world to go out and do this and I would expect a lot of interest in that.”

The routemap sets out three scenarios for reaching ne zero by 2030 – technology-led, demand-led and removals-led. In each case the level of reliance on offsetting varies. For example, the technology pathway would see a 96 per cent reduction in emissions if all actions were successful, versus 63 per cent for the removals strategy. A combined scenario would still see a quarter of emissions needing to be offset.

Asked whether there was a credibility issue around offsetting, Larsen said: “It’s something the whole UK economy is asking a lot of questions about. You have things like airlines offering to offset your flight to New York for £3 and people quite rightly think that’s too good to be true. We, of course, have to be very careful about that.

“We have got to find the offsetting opportunities that meet some quite tough criteria. For example, where is it ok to offset? Should it be within the individual companies boundaries, is UK wide ok, can you go as far as Europe or actually is there a global conversation to be had?”

He added: “Should it be linked to reductions? An offset where a company invests in energy efficiency gets a genuine reduction. But it’s still a reduction, not a removal.”