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Decarbonizing Water: Applying the Voluntary Carbon Market toward Global Water Security

GDI-incubated Resilient Water Accelerator recently published their new report revealing that by supporting improved access to clean water for vulnerable communities, over 1.6 billion tons of CO2e could be saved annually within the water sector. The report was prepared by the University of Colorado Boulder and Castalia Advisors, and commissioned by WaterAid’s Resilient Water Accelerator, The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (ICVCM), and HSBC.

The report identifies a $160 billion opportunity for the voluntary carbon market to reduce water sector emissions over the next decade. By focusing on areas like coastal blue carbon, wastewater treatment, and energy efficiency, we can simultaneously improve water security and reduce emissions.

“The water sector is not only at the heart of climate impacts – droughts, floods and weather-related natural disasters – it is also responsible for as much as 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 1

Yet, water is on the fringes of the climate change conversation. This report makes a compelling case that water security – including conservation and management of natural resources and infrastructure – have the potential to deliver a “triple win” of improved health for many people and increased climate resilience for even more, while helping to meet the challenge of reaching global net zero emissions.

Mobilising finance for a just transition in the water sector should be prioritised alongside the clean energy transition as an engine of green growth. This report, through reviewing and extrapolating existing studies, outlines a yet unrealised opportunity to reduce emissions from the water sector. This is estimated to be potentially around 1.6 billion tonnes of emissions savings per year, more than half of the European Union’s annual emissions – while increasing global water security.

To secure a prosperous, low carbon, resilient economy, public and private sector organisations, as well as civil society, need to work together to design and incentivize that future. Carbon markets, while they are not the whole solution, are a powerful tool to support climate action. They bring three key benefits: channelling finance to provide incentives to action, particularly in developing economies; encouraging greater monitoring and evaluation of environmental impacts; and helping to build institutions that mainstream environmental considerations into their approach, to be able to plan and respond to the challenges of the 21st century.”


  1. “Stop Floating, Start Swimming Water and climate change – interlinkages and prospects for future action,” GIZ, 2020 ↩︎