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Climate change and carbon

Taking care of the environment is at the heart of everything we do, and we know this is important to our customers too. Climate change is a huge issue we're all facing together, and we think it’s important that we’re completely transparent about our carbon emissions and how we plan to reduce them, so we can move forward together.

Why be concerned about climate change?

There's so much evidence that our climate is changing rapidly. This is important to us and our five million customers because our water and wastewater services are affected by the weather. Climate change means that our planet is getting warmer, which results in changes to rainfall patterns, average temperatures, sea levels, and other dramatic impacts here in Yorkshire as well as around the globe.

It's important we take action now, because:

  • rainfall is getting heavier. This can overload the public sewer network and cause flooding and pollution
  • we expect 14-28% less rainfall during the summer months and 6–14% more rainfall during the winter months by the 2080s
  • we've seen a rise in average temperatures. The 21st Century has been warmer than the previous three centuries and 2019 was 1.1°C warmer than the long-term average
  • we can expect our sea levels to rise by at least another 0.3m, even if we meet international targets to stay below 2°C of global warming. This is a big concern for our coastal communities in Hull, Withernsea, Runswick Bay and other places along our coastline
  • we're seeing extreme weather events like storms, floods, wildfires, heatwaves and droughts more often and they are becoming more severe.

We've already seen how extreme weather events can affect Yorkshire Water as a business, with significant costs that affect our ability to provide our most important services.

  • Floods in 2007, 2015, and 2019 cost a combined £145 million.
  • Boxing day floods in 2015 left over 7,500 people without power and 2,200 homes in York were evacuated.
  • July 2019 floods in the Dales alone resulted in more than 300 homes, 30 businesses, and 50 farms being flooded out.
  • Storm surges in 2013 and 2017 cost £650,000.
  • Drought and Beast from the East in 2018 cost £26 million.
  • Increased pumping in dry and wet spells is increasing our use of electricity.

We use models to predict how climate change might affect our water quality, networks and treatment processes so we can adapt and prepare for these changes. We must also do our part to slow down the effects of climate change – which all starts with reducing our carbon emissions.

What are our emissions made up of?

Our emissions fall into three categories: operational, capital and land. Operational emissions are created by our everyday operations like the electricity we use to pump water and the fuel we put into our vehicles. Capital emissions come from building and maintenance. Land emissions come from the ways we manage our land holdings. For example, degrading peatland releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while tree planting absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Our baseline year for our performance commitments is 2019/2020.

Operational

  • Direct emissions from burning of fuels (consisting of natural gas, gas oil, kerosene, biogas, transport fuel) were 20,683 tCO2e.
  • Process emissions (water and sewage treatment processes) were 50,979 tCO2e.
  • Electricity emissions were 131,724 tCO2e.
  • Business travel emissions were 1,017 tCO2e.
  • Outsourced activities emissions were 11,032 tCO2e.

Capital Emissions

  • Target emissions of 572,000 tCO2e between 2020-25.
  • Supply chain emissions estimated to be 499 tCO2e.

Land Emissions

  • Our current landholdings store 10,000 tCO2e per year. We're planning more peatland restoration and tree planting to improve this figure. Please note that these numbers may change as our model is refined and enhanced.

Find out more about water industry emissions

Our current position

We've seen a large drop in our emissions over recent years, as you can see in the table below. This has been achieved through grid decarbonisation, renewable energy, new operational activities (like anaerobic digestion) and many other initiatives. Our commitment to build less, builder smarter and build greener has also led to a big drop in our capital emissions.

StrategyEmission sourceTrajectory
Carbon reductionOperational emissions↓ 80% reduction in operational emissions since 2005
Capital emissions↓ 44% reduction from 2015 baseline
Supply chain emissionsFirst measured 2019
Carbon retentionLand emissionsFirst measured 2020
Carbon resiliencePredicted 1–3.9°C rise in global temperatures↑ 2°C increase planned

Our strategy and plans for the future

We need to make sure we can maintain the high levels of service our customers expect, now and in the future. So we're doing three things:

  • Preparing for the effects of climate change. To do this, we need to make sure our sites, people and processes are all as resilient as they can be.
  • Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions so we can help reduce the effects of climate change.
  • Working with others to make sure we have an effective response to climate change. We're communicating and collaborating with our customers, regulators, government and many others.

Our climate change strategy is currently being updated, as we're helping develop the national route map to net zero for the entire water industry. We hope this will be a landmark publication that other industries across the UK will use as a template for their own efforts. The strategy is still being finalised, but it includes:

  • a 90MW solar programme
  • renewable energy for all our grid electricity consumption
  • development of an industry-first land carbon model to help us decide the best way to manage our land holdings for maximum carbon benefit
  • continually reducing our emissions from our capital programme
  • a comprehensive fleet strategy to reduce our transport emissions.

The water industry makes up over 1% of total emissions in the UK, so our national commitment to be net-zero by 2030 will have a big impact on emissions reduction in the UK. We also plan to reduce our operational carbon and capital carbon emissions by 12% and 23% by 2024/25. This is a big opportunity for Yorkshire Water to be a national leader on carbon reduction.

Our performance

Being transparent and open about our contribution to climate change is the first step in tackling it.

See how we're performing

Emissions in the water industry

The water industry makes up around 1% of the UK’s annual carbon footprint, so it's important that water companies play their part in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. But where do these emissions come from? Having a good understanding of where our greenhouse gases come from is crucial to making as many reductions as we can. 

Find out more about water industry emissions

Case studies and success stories

We've made some great progress and we'd love to share our successes with you. 

Read our case studies and success stories