“Water demands centre stage in the climate emergency”

13 July 2020


Anglian Water Chief exec, Peter Simpson has called for water as ‘our most precious resource’ to be the centre of focus in the climate emergency.


The CEO’s rallying comments formed part of his opening speech at this year’s virtual Waterwise conference. He said: “At Anglian Water, we like a challenge. And they don’t come much bigger than the two we’re facing particularly in the East of England – a rapidly growing population and a changing climate.


“A year ago, Sir James Bevan gave the opening speech here. He spoke of the ‘jaws of death’ around water scarcity in the next 25 years. As highlighted in last week’s Public Accounts Committee report, the risk is far greater and we will run out of water in the next 10 years if we don’t act now.


"Years ago, we’d have tackled this problem with a traditional solution, such as building a new reservoir.  We’d have delivered it well and efficiently, and it would have solved the problem, on the face of it.


“Now, we need to stop thinking in a fixed way about the future and move to a scenario-based approach, developing supply and demand-based strategies. It won’t always be raining in the north west of our region and dry in the south east – climate change is much more uncertain than that. We need to think about potential future scenarios and develop strategies that position us best to tackle the most likely ones.


“Last month we announced the formation of our Strategic Pipeline Alliance (SPA), a programme which will deliver the largest water infrastructure project we’ve seen for a generation. SPA gives us the ability not only to transfer water from one part of the region to another but to do it in a way that gives maximum flexibility to deal with the myriad of scenarios that might come along – and, critically, to do it with a view to other sectors’ demand for water in the future.


“About 10 years ago, together with a number of other organisations, we started to think about scenarios for different sectors: what will agriculture need? What will the energy sector need over the next 50 years? What will the environment need?


“When you combine those requirements with the likely picture for water supplies you start to develop scenarios against which you can plan – but critically, not in isolation, but together, coming up with one common multi-sector plan that positions us all in the best place possible.


“One of the flagship schemes for this is the Future Fenland Strategy. The project looks at the potential to combine flood defence with the provision of water for public supply, energy and agriculture and the opportunity for social regeneration and sustainable new housing as a result.


“It’s this kind of holistic thinking which is unlocking new opportunity which simply wouldn’t have been there before.


“I believe one of the things we should be thinking about is not just hoping for the best in terms of impact of a changing climate, but actually planning for the worst. But what does the worst look like?  By the end of the century we’re expecting an increase in the average global temperatures of four degrees.


“The latest report by the Committee for Climate Change showed that most companies aren’t even planning for a one and a half degree temperature rise and yet 50 per cent of our summers will be hotter than in 2018 and have a 10 per cent increase in rainfall.


“Now in Anglian, we’re framing the challenge in a new way: how we can make our region ‘fit for 4’ – that is, how can we best come together to equip our region to cope – and thrive -  in a scenario where global temperatures rise by four degrees? 


“The answer might lie in how we work together, and it’s great to see the collaboration in the water industry not only in our mitigation through the shared carbon net zero target objective by 2030, but also on tripling the rate of leakage reduction, and the renewed commitment to driving down per capita consumption. It’s this kind of collaboration that’s going to be the most important.


“My rallying call is to use the springboard of the recovery from COVID 19 to embrace water as a precious resource which is central to the climate emergency. By being smarter, more integrated and even more collaborative we can rise to this, the greatest of challenges, to do the right thing for our customers and the environment.”