Needs for climate change mitigation efforts from households, industry and society

Speech Published 30 Oct 2009 Last modified 16 Oct 2014
Keynote presentation by Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of EEA at the Water & Energy 2009 conference, in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 30 October 2009.

Our management of water resources may affect greenhouse gas emissions. Conversely, measures taken to mitigate greenhouse gases may impact our water resources. That is why communication and collaboration are crucial. Without them, we won't be able to seize opportunities for co-benefits and avoid the risks of externalised costs.

Prof. Jacqueline McGlade

The survival and prosperity of human societies rests to a significant extent on their access to clean air, water and energy.
To manage these resources sustainably — that is, in a way that allows future generations to enjoy standards of living at least as good as ours — we have to recognise the complex links between them.

For that reason, I draw huge encouragement from events like today's — drawing together representatives of the water and energy industries to deepen understanding of the two sectors’ interdependence and to map out ways to work together in the years ahead.

We need to collaborate to address the huge challenges identified by the EEA, IPCC and others

And given the scale of the challenges we face, it's hard to overstate the importance of collaboration.


This is a point that comes across very clearly in EEA reports in recent years.

The EEA was set up to gather and analyse data from across Europe to inform decision-makers and citizens about our environment. Our findings on the issue of climate change, which are shared by the IPCC and our other partners, are unequivocal.


The climate system is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed. Annual global emissions of CO2 have increased enormously in the past 150 years in line with growing demand for energy, initially in the West and now the developing world.


Developing country emissions are growing rapidly, although per capita output is still far below the industralised world

Annual output of CO2 equivalents from the industrialised countries listed in Annex I to the Kyoto Protocol has now been overtaken by emissions from the developing countries not included in that annex.

It's important to stress that on a per capita basis, a huge gulf continues to exist between the emissions of industrialised and developing countries.

But the combined effect of insufficient efforts by industrialised countries to reduce emissions and the enormous growth of developing country greenhouse gases is a huge problem that urgently needs addressing.


A 50 % cut in global emissions gives us a 50/50 chance of meeting the two degree target. Achieving that will be tough…

Limiting average temperature increases to two degrees, as recommended by the IPCC and G8 to keep climate change within manageable limits, is going to be hard.

According to the latest projections, reducing global GHG emissions by around 50 % by the middle of this century (which would imply cuts of 80 % in industrialised countries) would give us about a 50/50 chance of achieving the two degree goal.

And perhaps impossible if we delay

Arguably the most important message, though, is that we must start reducing emissions as soon as possible. Failing to cap the increase in emissions by 2020 will shift a huge and rapidly growing burden onto the next generation.

The longer emission cuts are delayed the greater the annual reduction in emissions needed to stay below the two degree target. Failing to cap global emissions by 2020 could mean the need to reduce emissions by 6% every year in order to meet the two degree target. Putting that in context, the Kyoto Protocol required Annex I parties to reduce emissions by less than 6% and gave them more than a decade to do so.

Successful CC mitigation demands efforts from across society because all sectors contribute to energy demand

The challenges of mitigating climate change are clearly as urgent as they are immense. And it’s equally clear that efforts must focus primarily on energy production and consumption, which accounts for 80 % of all GHG emissions.

We urgently need to shift to carbon-free ways of generating energy and change our consumption patterns to reduce energy demand.

That will demand contributions for across society, from both suppliers of energy and consumers; from all economic sectors and from academia, non-governmental organisations and, of course, governments. 


All sectors can contribute by enhancing energy efficiency. Indeed, as recent reports by IEA and McKinsey stress, energy efficiency isn't just the cheapest way to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, it actually realises a positive economic return as a result of cost savings.

In terms of energy supply, the shift away from centralised power generation to more distributed networks also means that households and businesses have a role to play in power generation and storage.


Individual buildings can be equipped with solar panels. Local communities can share ownership of wind turbines. And privately owned electric cars will provide a potential store of energy from intermittent sources. Governments can support such initiatives by creating supporting infrastructure.

But we need more than just contributions. Broad collaboration and coordination is essential because actions impose externalities on other sectors.

But without coordination, the contributions of individual sectors — however enthusiastic — will evidently not be enough.
Because of the numerous links between resource sectors, measures targeting one area will frequently impact another — sometimes imposing costs on society, sometimes producing additional benefits.


In a world of limited resources, realising the greatest gains for society while preserving our natural resource base requires that we recognise these positive and negative externalities. Only be reflecting such costs and benefits in our analysis can we select the right approaches.

That is why communication and collaboration are crucial. Without them, we won’t be able to seize opportunities for co-benefits and avoid the risks of externalised costs.

GHG mitigation clearly impacts water resource management and vice versa

Focusing on the water-energy nexus, it's obvious that our management of water resources may affect greenhouse gas emissions. Conversely, measures taken to mitigate greenhouse gases may impact our water resources.

Public water supply currently accounts for little energy use but it may well rise…

Starting with the former, it’s apparent that each step of the water supply cycle — from abstraction, to treatment and on to distribution — requires energy, primarily electricity.

In European countries, this probably amounts to about 10–20 watts per person — equivalent to running a  20 watt bulb around the clock. While that corresponds to perhaps 2–3 % of per capita electricity consumption in the EU-27, it's important to remember that this is an average figure; in some countries it may be much higher.

Moreover, continuing with "business as usual" is likely to mean growing electricity demand in the water sector.


Meeting demand for drinking water in increasingly parched areas of southern Europe via desalination, for example, can imply a 10-fold increase in energy needs.

But rising water quality standards, both for drinking water and treated effluents, can also demand more energy use. Upgrading wastewater treatment to more advanced processes such as membrane filtration and advanced oxidation, for example, can double electricity consumption at the treatment plant.

And although demand management offers co-benefits…

On the positive side, there are also obvious opportunities to realise co-benefits, particularly by reducing water demand in households and businesses.

Using less water means consuming less energy supplying that water. But, perhaps more importantly, it would also affect the energy used heating water within households, which accounts for perhaps ten times as much energy use per capita as the supply cycle.

Our ability to realise co-benefits and avoid externalising costs is undermined by a lack of information

Unfortunately, our understanding of energy use in the water sector across the EU is currently limited.

In Eurostat data on final energy consumption across sectors, the water industry falls under 'services and other'. And our understanding of household energy consumption in connection with water use is similarly weak.

For the purposes of designing policies to realise co-benefits, and identifying and sharing best practice, this shortage of accurate and commensurable data is a problem.

The energy sector puts big demands on water supplies, notably for cooling water…

Moving to the other side of the water-energy nexus, it’s obvious that the energy sector and GHG mitigation efforts have a big impact on our water resources.


As an EEA report on Europe's water resources published earlier this year notes, energy production in the EU accounts for 44 % of total water abstraction, primarily for use as cooling water.

And while it's true that cooling water use has decreased by around 10 % in the last 10 to 15 years due to the adoption of new cooling systems, the reduction has been far from uniform across Europe.

And using renewable fuels and other CC mitigation techniques will also influence water consumption


Shifting to new sources of energy is likely to impact water use. One obvious area is combustion of biomass.

The EU has committed to increasing biofuels to account for 10 % of transport fuel by 2020. This will markedly increase future demand for energy crops and thus total agricultural output.

Besides the impact on the availability and price of other agricultural products, the shift to energy crops may have significant implications for agricultural water use.

If the demand for energy crops is met using standard arable crops then agricultural water demand is likely to increase, perhaps necessitating greater use of irrigation.


Other mitigation initiatives, such as moving agriculture into cities to absorb carbon and regulate temperature, or evaporative cooling systems within buildings, show considerable promise but could have significant impacts on urban water supply during summer months.

Once again, the key point is that in analysing the costs and benefits of innovations of this sort we must incorporate the full range of impacts on other sectors.

Governments clearly have an important role to play in facilitating information sharing and creating the right incentives

The question remains, how best to deepen our understanding of the links and interactions between the two sectors and ensure that they are reflected in policies and investment decisions?

Government clearly has an important role to play in developing and implementing tools such as carbon footprints that can be used across industries to quantify and compare resource use.

Governments are also uniquely positioned to use economic and regulatory tools to internalise the full social and environmental costs of activities into market prices, thereby incentivising resource use. And Governments can also require or promote information sharing.

But meetings like this are also important for building common understanding and developing tools#

Equally, there is clearly scope for the private and non-governmental sectors to lead initiatives — as the current conference demonstrates.

Meetings like this help us build common understanding and develop tools. Methods such as Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) as presented at this conference can play an important role in planning policies and measures – especially if you, as specialists, reach consensus on the concepts and communicate it to us.

There is also a clear opportunity for industry to take the lead in developing indicators and sharing data of environmental significance, and here the EEA could play a supporting role.

EEA is willing to support this at European scale


EEA hosts considerable amounts of data in thematic databases, much of it freely available to all users. For example, the EEA's Water Information System for Europe or 'WISE' contains data on more than 20 000 urban wastewater treatment plants across Europe. This includes data reported pursuant to EU directives but can be complemented with additional information, for example concerning energy consumption.


EEA is willing to make its IT infrastructure available to store and disseminate such data and indicators. The question, therefore, is whether water utilities are willing to respond, perhaps via networks as European Water Partnership or EUREAU.  

Other key outputs from today's meeting


Let me conclude, then, by reiterating my support for the current meeting.

I hope very much that, in addition to deepening mutual understanding of the two sectors, it produces robust outputs that can inform future decision-making.

These may include case studies that provide inspiration and examples of good practice for stakeholders in industry, government and society more broadly.

They might also include concepts and tools to facilitate information exchange and incentivise better management of water and energy resources.

I wish you good luck in your efforts.



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