Why Decarbonize?

While water services have to cope with the impacts of climate change, they also contribute to global emissions from energy, as well as nitrous oxide and methane in wastewater systems. Water pumping, treatment and distribution, use up to 8% of the global energy generation.

What is driving your utility towards carbon neutrality

Reduce costs

As energy costs make up a large part of a water utility’s operating costs, reducing energy consumption is a key driver for reducing GHG emissions. Similarly, reducing water losses in the drinking water system or infiltration and inflow of stormwater in sewers reduce pumping and treatment energy. A strong focus of the proposed approach relates to energy optimisation of the utility services.

Renew assets

When aging assets need to be renewed, there is an opportunity to evaluate solutions that are low-energy and low-carbon. It is also a good time to assess the water consumption and water loss reduction strategies so that future assets are adapted to conveying and treating lower water volumes per capita. Handling less water translates to lower pumping energy, and more efficient treatment. Expanding the assets is part of the utility’s mission to provide access to water and sanitation for all residents. It can be implemented by choosing low-carbon solutions. The expanded service, in addition to providing community health and biodiversity benefits, will offset the GHG emissions associated to the discharge of untreated wastewater to receiving water bodies, which account worldwide to about x% of emissions.

Environmental stewardship

Whether it is for tourism, local economy, recreation, real estate, or quality of life, maintaining a healthy water environment in the water bodies around cities can be a key driver for increasing wastewater treatment coverage, or improving wastewater treatment, which can result in reduced GHG emissions from the water bodies with less carbon and nitrogen available in the water for conversion to GHG by microorganisms. Many water utilities are already feeling the effects of water scarcity, water quality deterioration in water supplies and receiving waters from drought as well as from increased flooding events. Therefore, implementing measures that can reduce GHG emissions is a way to contribute to the international agreement to mitigate climate change. When identifying measures to adapt to the impacts of climate change on water quality and quantity, the utility has an opportunity to consider low-carbon solutions.


The customers of the water utility are citizens who might be driving the utility or the local authorities to make political decisions towards climate mitigation actions in all sectors of the City. The political will of the utility to implement progressive water-wise measures and /or contribute to climate mitigation changes the priorities with which projects are assessed, leading to implementing measures based on economical and socio-environmental criteria. At the same time, customers can enable some low-carbon measures through their behavior (e.g.: using less water, using solar heating) and through their acceptance of alternative approaches (e.g:.: reuse, rainwater harvesting)

What enables change towards
carbon neutrality?


Local, regional or national policies influence the way measures are assessed and priorities set. Policies are emerging in many cities and local governments to support the implementation of the Paris Agreement, putting a high priority on low-carbon solutions. It can be anticipated that GHG reduction measures become mandatory as the Paris Agreement implementation is defined by the signatory countries. The local policies may provide financial incentives to implement low carbon measures.


At international level, new financing mechanisms are tailored specifically for climate change mitigation and or adaptation (see e.g. Global Environment Facility, Green Climate Fund, or development banks, such as IDB and ADB). Some established financing mechanisms, such as for expanding water services infrastructure actually also result in GHG reduction through increased wastewater treatment coverage and reduced discharge of untreated wastewater. The financial strength of the utility is key to apply for such funding. Policies influencing utilities’ budget by supporting a climate adaptation and mitigation budget line, enable the utility to prioritize projects such as energy efficiency of water loss reduction, reducing GHG footprint while also improving the service. Financing policies that combine adaptation and mitigation is essential to enable improving the utility’s resilience to climate change (through a diversification of sources of supply, or sound stormwater management) without increasing the GHG footprint.


Capacity refers to the technical capacity, the knowledge and experience of utility staff, for assessing GHG emissions, but also the capacity for developing projects and identifying and securing financing to implement them. Investing in the utility workforce is probably the most important enabler to achieving low-energy, low-carbon water-services. The roadmap to carbon neutrality is intended to fill gaps in capacity along this path to GHG reduction, understanding that the capacity will vary widely from utility to utility. The roadmap starts with developing the understanding on what the Utility’s GHG emissions sources are, how to assess its GHG emissions, and how to go about implementing solutions, with more or less support from external experts.

Stakeholder engagement

Key stakeholder engagement can facilitate GHG reduction in the water sector because it helps in developing the partnerships that are needed for developing more progressive solutions, which reduce GHG emissions of the full urban water cycle, also beyond the utility’s jurisdiction. Indeed, green infrastructure, rainwater harvesting, reuse, grey- black or yellow- water separation at source are all measures that can potentially reduce GHG emissions, but can only be considered once all urban stakeholders work together.

Did you know?

Related resources

Welcome & Introduction

WaCCliM Team 2017

Setting the scene

WaCCliM Team 2017

Benefits and drawbacks of thermal pre-hydrolysis for operational performance of wastewater treatment plants

Energy efficiency: benefits of variable speed control in pumps, fans and compressors

Schneider Electric Industries SAS 2008
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