Water industry must act on climate change adaptation

Regardless of what we do to reduce our future impact on the climate, greenhouse gases already built up in the atmosphere mean that some change is inevitable - and the water industry is likely to feel the effects more than most.

With climate models predicting more frequent and more severe extreme weather events such as drought and deluge, it’s easy to see that the water sector will need to adapt.

Mike Keil, head of climate change at Ofwat, spoke to edie about the issues – and how he intends to discuss them when he speaks at IWEX next week.

“Water is clearly a crucial area,” he said.

“In terms of the sectors of the economy that are going to feel the effects of climate change, water is going to be experiencing serious implications from a changing climate which means we have to act now to reap long term benefits.”

He acknowledged insurance is often seen as the sector that will be most affected as extreme whether events increase in frequency and severity.

But on a day-to-day basis and changes needed for infrastructure, he argued, water is probably the biggest.

Carbon and emissions have always been writ large in the climate change debate, he said, but in the short to medium term, water is likely to have a more immediate impact on our lives.

“There has been quite a focus on carbon – we’ve always said we need to get the balance right,” he said.

“We need to keep our eye on the ball and not ignore the need for adaptation, we’ve got guaranteed change for the next three or four decades no matter what we do about emissions.

“Last year [at IWEX] we talked about how we define sustainability and how we capture that to make sure there’s a level playing field,” he said.

“In [Ofwat’s 2009] price review you can start to see this coming through – for example in the metering programme which has a lot of long term sustainability benefits.

“As the economic regulator Ofwat has quite a lot of influence but clearly we’re in this together. ”

He said that uncertainty made planning for sustainability a difficult task and it is important to try to find the right path between doing too little and excessive gold plating that would see unnecessary rises in water prices.

“If there was certainty in how to achieve sustainability it would be much easier,” he said.

“It’s not an impossible task, but this uncertainty does make it harder.”

Population growth and the economic recovery, as well as climate change itself, make forward planning more difficult, he said.

Mike Keil will be exploring these issues at IWEX next Tuesday, April 20.

Sam Bond

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