COP27: 5 take-aways for the water sector

COP27: 5 take-aways for the water sector

Xylem is a founding member of the Reservoir Center for Water Solutions. Last month, coinciding with COP27, the UN’s annual climate summit taking place in Egypt, the Reservoir Center hosted its own “Water and Climate” pavilion to raise awareness of the importance of COP27, as well as the latest trends in climate resilience, adaptation and mitigation across the water sector.
The Reservoir Center’s half-day event featured a cross-section of water stakeholders – including water utilities from Europe and the Americas – and policymakers live from Sharm El Sheik. Here are five key take-aways:

1. Water is increasingly central to global climate conversations

Journalist Dave Keating of Energy Monitor and France 24, who joined the Reservoir Center event from Sharm El Sheik, shared that water was “a really main focus this year” at COP. He added that the summit featured a host of events spotlighting water: “Both the threats that the world faces in terms of water security, and they’re talking about adaptation. That’s definitely a focus here. But there’s also been a focus here on how water can play a part in reducing emissions.”

Austin Alexander, Vice President of Sustainability of Xylem, said, “If there’s any sector that should be leading on both climate change mitigation and adaptation, it should be water.”

She added: “Water and wastewater utilities make up about 2 percent of GHG emissions, and water management as a whole is closer to 10 percent. Those numbers are expected to double by 2040 as we do good things like provide WASH to those who are underserved today. If we’re going to advance continuing to provide water and sanitation to those unprovided, as well as reduce emissions, we’re going to have to do both at the same time.”

2. Collaboration is key to progress

Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for Water and Science at the U.S. Department of the Interior, who participated from Sharm El Sheik, discussed how the theme of collaboration showed up in conversations at COP: “There’s a common interest in trying to work together to develop technologies, develop data in particular that we can share among our countries to help each other build tools and strategies to be able to manage in this changing climate we have.”
Veronica Manfredi, Director of Zero Pollution and Green Cities of the European Commission, said: “As the European Union, we are trying to steer the thinking and the activities also of our economic players next to our member states to try and come out from the UN Water Conference with a more common vision, hopefully a shared vision also with our partners, about what we should do better.”

3. Innovation to drive adoption is needed

Piers Clark, President of Isle Group, a water technology consultancy and founder of the Trial Reservoir, an industry-first funding mechanism for water utilities, spoke about the need for the water sector to focus on innovative ways to drive adoption:

“We’ve got lots of brilliant technologies out there that solve most of the problems we can face. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t always room for new ideas.” He added: “It really is about adopting these technologies that are out there rather than carrying on… doing the same old things.”

Hardeep Anand, Director of One Water Strategy in Miami-Dade County, Florida, spoke about the need for innovative approaches to “elevate the understanding” among the water workforce, as well as policymakers and other stakeholders, including the general public, so they can champion these kind of projects.

4. Europe continues to navigate complex water and climate pressures

In Europe, water operators are navigating the impacts of escalating water challenges and legislative reforms aimed at improving sustainability, combined with the current energy crisis.

“As a result of huge investment [in digitization], many efficiencies have been created,” said Ruben Fernandes, CEO of Águas e Energia de Porto, Portugal. “Now for us, the ambition is not only to be a sustainable utility but also to be a part of the solution to the global crisis both at the mitigation and adaptation sides.”

“More than that, being a part of the solution for us nowadays is not only about reducing our carbon footprint, which is very, very important. It is also about using the subproducts of our activities such as those related to wastewater treatment process or the work that we do in our seafront site area to meet local needs.”
“From Water Europe… we see the need actually for a true paradigm shift,” said Hans Goossens, CEO of Watergroep and president of Water Europe. He added it requires innovation, courageous decisions, perseverance, investment, changes and new types of collaboration at all levels.

5. Net zero is a top sector priority

Hardeep Anand said, “There’s a lot happening in our space” around GHG emissions reduction. He added that Miami-Dade has their own in-house energy master plan and that they are “doing quite a bit on all Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions.”
“We’ve seen a shift in the last five years,” said Piers Clark of Isle about the kind of new technologies they are screening. “Ten years ago, lots of stuff was around digitization. In recent years, it’s all around decarbonization. There’s always an angle that has an ESG side to it.”
Learn more about the Reservoir Center’s COP27 event.
Download Xylem’s white paper on net zero emissions.
Read Xylem’s Sustainability Report.