Blog: Climate change is all about water – let’s make COP26 count

Mike Keil, Director of Policy, Research and Campaigns at CCW
Mike Keil, Director of Policy, Research and Campaigns at CCW

The latest UN international climate conference, or COP26, is weeks away (COP stands for Conference of Parties and the 26 indicates that this is the 26th one – catchy, eh?). Water, of course, is high on the agenda.

Water is the first way most people, wherever they are in the world, have experienced the impact of climate change: too much, too little, or both at the same time. But it’s easy to forget that the process of cleaning water so that it is fit to drink, and then supplying it to homes and businesses many miles away, is carbon intensive.

In England and Wales, the water sector is showing real leadership when it comes to curbing climate emissions. While the UK has set a target to have a neutral (or net zero) effect on global carbon emissions by 2050, water companies in England have together set out to achieve this by 2030 (although a third of customers believe their water companies should achieve this sooner).

Less visible, but no less important, is the work being done to adapt to the impacts of climate change, which are already affecting our water supply and sewerage services. Progress may be ramping up, but many customers remain unaware of the need to save water, or take care about what gets flushed down the toilet or rinsed down the drain.

We’ve published research today showing that 2 out of 5 of bill payers in water-stressed parts of England think that water is plentiful where they live. That’s despite increasingly large areas of England being classed by the Environment Agency as seriously water stressed. The good news, however, is that over 80% of customers say they are willing to make changes to help save water.

There are many good regional initiatives to encourage consumers to save water. But what we need to see is a stronger effort from all water companies to take a joint, consistent and sustained approach to raising awareness across England and Wales.

COP26 presents a real opportunity to the water industry to ensure customers are making the link between their own water use and saving the planet. But this issue is too significant just to have a short term focus, it needs sustained and consistent attention.

At CCW we’ll continue to inform people on the big picture of how climate and water are intrinsically linked and to empower people to make simple changes that can have a big impact. We’re always looking for new ways to do that, for example by using our extensive body of consumer research. And we’re always keen to work in partnership to find effective routes to reach people.

Water is central to both mitigating and adapting to climate change. Let’s make COP26 count.