A word from WSAA.
Climate change is with us now and water is at the centre of its impacts globally, from changes in rainfall patterns and water scarcity, to the way water is managed in the landscape, to the frequency of storms and other major weather events.
In Australia and New Zealand, the impacts of climate change are expected to include more variable rainfall patterns; continued increases in average air temperatures; more heat extremes and fewer cold extremes; more frequent and intense storms; a longer fire season; and a gradual increase in sea level, along with storm surges.
The urban water industry is impacted by climate change more than most sectors, but water can be harnessed in smarter and better ways to both reduce emissions and adapt to climate change at the same time.
Last November, WSAA published our paper Towards resilience: Climate change and the urban water industry in Australia and New Zealand that has put forward the range of ways the urban water sector has been impacted by climate change, its current emissions profile and ambition to be net zero, as well as the breadth and diversity of its adaptation actions.
The paper shares case studies on leading practice from Australian and New Zealand water utilities and highlights paths towards improving resilience.
How are we adapting to our future climate and improving our resilience?
Water utilities can work towards improving their resilience to climate change and extreme weather events by focusing on resistance, recovery, and transformation of approach.
Australian and New Zealand water utilities are already adapting to significant changes in their operating environment from reduced inflows, the impacts of extreme events and other disruptions. This is forming an ever-larger part of our business, as well as the broader sector, which is increasingly galvanised around providing leading edge advice, knowledge sharing, tools, frameworks, and other resources to support our industry’s shift.
We are increasingly investing in rainfall-independent supplies to boost water security, as well as considering the likely impacts of climate change on our large and aging asset base from both a risk and financial perspective. We are adapting our assets and recognising that the performance of our assets across their lifecycle is likely to be impacted by climate change. This may lead to redesigning of our assets, their materials, optimal locations, sizing, and timing.
Water utilities will need to do more with less water, so continuing to invest in water efficiency and conservation is critical. Managing leakage is one way the industry is meeting both our water security challenges and reducing emissions from undelivered water at the same time. Innovation such as acoustic pipe sensing is just one example of leading practice in this space.
The urban water industry is also developing its capability in adaptive and integrated planning across sectors, particularly with the land-use planning sector through an Integrated Water Management approach with all organisations involved in the urban water cycle. Success here will increase our resilience and ensure cities and towns are liveable and thrive despite the changing climate.
We are combining this with a circular economy mindset that views by-products as a resource and finds innovative and cost-effective solutions to reusing those by-products. This can reduce the demand for primary products (such as chemicals used in water treatment, nitrogen, phosphorus and oxygen) and thus contribute to emissions reduction in the extractive industries sector (a Scope 3 emissions reduction for water utilities).
Achieving net zero
The urban water industry does generate emissions, and as an industry these are growing, with the 2019-20 National Performance Report indicating a record 4.25 million tonnes of emissions were produced, a 32 per cent increase on the preceding year (BOM 2020). The industry has a responsibility to shareholders, customers, and future generations to do as much as we can to reduce our emissions.
To contribute to global and national efforts to limit climate change and keep global temperature rise this century well below 2°C, and preferably to 1.5°C, the urban water industry will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In many cases, water utilities will achieve this target earlier than 2050, particularly where shareholder and customer expectations support a faster reduction in emissions.
In May 2022, we updated our Urban Water Industry Climate Change Position to reflect the increased urgency and expectations upon the sector following the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, the release of the IPCC Sixth Assessment report as well as ongoing extreme weather changes experienced in Australia and New Zealand, strengthening commitments by water utilities towards reaching Net Zero.
Through collaboration and partnership with our customers, communities, Indigenous Australian and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the Maori people, government stakeholders and other sectors, the urban water industry commits to:
• Reduce water loss in our networks and encourage our customers to value efficient and effective water use
• Strengthen economic and environmental resilience through smarter and better use of water, infrastructure, and holistic adaptation to climate change
• Develop lasting relationships with Indigenous communities and businesses to ensure a partnership and stewardship approach to our shared challenges in water resource management
• Leverage our unique advantage in water management to improve climate adaptation and urban livability through green, cool and healthy environments
• Implement circular economy principles in managing resources including water, waste, energy and natural capital, to foster the transition to a more circular future
• Support healthy waterways to restore and regenerate ecological and community values
• Engage with customers and partner with communities and other sectors to build understanding of the trade-offs and cascading risks arising from our interdependencies, to achieve a balance between climate change costs and outcomes, including the needs of future generations
The water industry is uniquely positioned to mitigate our impact on our climate, respond and adapt to the impacts of a changing climate on the delivery of our services, and improve the resilience of our communities and the environment in adapting to a changing climate.