2016 started off with some very promising news: the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations came into effect. This means that 150 world leaders agreed last September on global goals that include providing clean water for everyone, stopping climate change, and increasing the use of renewable energy. The water and wastewater sector will play a crucial role in meeting several of these goals.
The Sustainable Development Goals are necessary because the situation is urgent. When it comes to the issues of water, energy and emissions, the facts speak for themselves:
– Global emissions of carbon dioxide have increased by almost 50 percent since 1990.
– Greenhouse gas emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades
– Floods and other water-related disasters account for 70 percent of all deaths related to natural disasters
– By 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of freshwater.
In developing countries, 90 percent of wastewater flows untreated into lakes and rivers. In developed countries, pollution is creating toxic algal blooms and aging infrastructure cannot efficiently meet the challenges brought on by droughts and climate change.
Capturing environmental and economic benefits
Taken together with the Paris Agreement on climate change, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals can make a significant difference in the quality of life for billions of people around the world. As the UN points out, these goals are not just about improving the environment, they are just as much about providing economic benefits for people now and in the future.
“For sustainable development to be achieved, it is crucial to harmonize three core elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection,” the UN writes in its report. “These elements are interconnected and all are crucial for the well-being of individuals and societies.”
Some of the goals for 2030 that should affect the water and waste water industry include:
– Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.
– Upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable.
– Substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors.
How the water and wastewater industry can help
When looking at the Sustainable Development Goals, it might seem that there is a large gap between the situation today and what needs to be achieved by 2030. When it comes to water and wastewater, however, Xylem’s research shows that there are significant energy savings and environmental benefits to be gained from applying technology that already exists today.
According to Xylem’s Wastewater Renaissance research, the global wastewater industry could cut its electricity-related greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent using current technology, and 95 percent of these reductions will either cost nothing or will actually save money.
Countries and companies are increasingly recognizing that sustainable development goes hand-in-hand with economic growth, creating jobs and new industries while driving innovation. For example, a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Achieving a Circular Economy, presents a collection of best practices for how companies have profitably leveraged environmental, economic and social opportunities.
“The new agenda is a promise by leaders to all people everywhere,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon of the new sustainability goals. “It is an agenda for people, to end poverty in all its forms – an agenda for the planet, our common home.”