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Reflections on COP27: To Accelerate Climate Action Now, We Must Address the Water Crisis

By Emilio Tenuta, Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Ecolab


Sharm el-Sheikh

In 2022, Ecolab joined World Climate Summit to contribute to the partnership for a sustainability transition and help businesses in turning ambition into action. Emilio Tenuta, Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at Ecolab, was the keynote speaker at Panel Session 1A “Re-Thinking Infrastructure - Innovation for a Sustainable Built Environment” on Day 2 of World Climate Summit.

In this article, Emilio Tenuta shares his experience from COP27 and World Climate Summit 2022 and reflects on the climate change driven water crisis, its impacts and the opportunities to overcome it.

 

As I reflect on my time in Egypt for COP27 and World Climate Summit, my visit to a national water recycling project in Sharm el-Sheikh seems like a good place to start. Why? Because, as one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, Egypt is clearly showing the effects of climate change.

Not only does it face an acute water crisis, by some estimates Egypt is on pace to potentially run out of water by 2025. Egypt also offers an early warning signal: If we don’t address water scarcity and climate change head on, communities around the world will find their water security under threat.

That is why I wanted to share the collaboration between the Egyptian government and Ecolab to address the water and climate challenges in the region. I had the pleasure of visiting the Sharm el-Sheikh wastewater recycling project with Vishal Sharma, Ecolab senior vice president and market head for India, the Middle East and Africa, and Zyad Tarek Helmy and Ziad Ashraf, Ecolab/Nalco Water experts in Egypt.

The purpose of the national water project is to reduce, reuse and recycle wastewater and use the non-potable water to support irrigation of local agriculture and natural landscapes. With the help of Zyad and Ziad, Ecolab is delivering technology and expertise to close the gap between freshwater demand and availability in the region.

Climate and water: Two sides of one coin

At the heart of the national water recycling project is the link between climate and water. They are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. Both need to be addressed if we want to reduce the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities and businesses. The Egyptian Ministry of Army Production and Ecolab are focused on rolling out this technology in more locations rapidly, with a goal of getting to 250 projects by 2025. You are probably thinking what is the impact? On average, each wastewater recycling plant in Egypt will lead to freshwater savings of millions of cubic meters for the Egyptian nation and communities per year.

COP27 unfolded against this backdrop. And as it wraps up, the news isn’t good. Global emissions are up 1% year-over-year and there is a growing chorus of consumer and stakeholder outcry about corporations making pledges without a defined path to achieve them.

Last year, after COP26 in Glasgow, aggressive commitments were made to mobilise finance, secure global net zero by mid-century, adapt to protect communities and natural habits, and work together to deliver on these goals.

COP27 was meant to focus on the execution of these commitments. Unfortunately, only a few companies have invested in actionable plans to reach the annual milestones needed by 2030.


“According to Accenture, about one-third of the world's 2,000 biggest firms by revenue now have public net zero goals. Of those, 93% are not on track nor do they know how they are going to get there.”

- Emilio Tenuta, Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Ecolab


It's imperative to invest in a low-carbon future

As I traveled between the Green and Blue Zones in Sharm el-Sheikh last week, I heard a great deal about the need to accelerate global climate action, bolster climate resilience and engage all of society in tackling the climate crisis. 

Perhaps the biggest theme was catalysing investment at a scale required to address the climate crisis. That included sustainability linked bonds (SLB), green bonds and other financial instruments tied to greening the economy. Investment toward a low carbon future is imperative for all companies. It signals to customers, investors and the world that you are serious about putting together the required mitigation and adaptation plans and actions to achieve net zero and make your operations more resilient.

Returning to where I began this post, addressing the ongoing water crisis is critical to addressing climate change.


“More than a quarter of the world’s population lives in water-stressed regions and climate change is profoundly impacting the availability and quality of freshwater.”

- Emilio Tenuta, Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Ecolab


At World Climate Summit at COP27, I provided opening remarks for a panel on rethinking infrastructure and the built environment. My comments focused on three key steps for accelerating the path to decarbonization in a water-constrained world:

  1. We must adopt bold solutions to drive action. “Ecolab Water for Climate” is one example. A new program launched at COP27, it is designed to help companies respond to the intensifying energy crisis and impacts of climate change and water scarcity. Ecolab has found that more efficient water management in production processes can reduce water consumption by up to 44%, energy use by up to 22% and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 12%. Ecolab Water for Climate can help businesses pursue climate, water and business growth goals through the power of water.

  2. We need to work collectively. Public-private partnerships and coalitions are critical for tackling the global challenges that impact people, planet and business health. A case in point: the UN Global Compact Water Resilience Coalition (WRC). As a founding member, Ecolab is urging other industry leaders to join the Coalition by signing a Net Positive Water Pledge. At the Green Zone, I had a chance to join a WRC panel with partners AB InBev and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). We shared an example from water-stressed Sao Paulo, Brazil, where members of the WRC, including Ecolab and AB InBev, are investing in nature-based solutions. This project is a shining example of climate adaptation and resilience for businesses and communities, with demonstrated results.

  3. The “green premium” is a myth. As with any initiative, the business case for sustainability and climate investment must be clear – even more so during challenging economic times. At Ecolab, we know that operational, sustainability and climate goals can coexist without tradeoffs. Our eROI approach, which stands for exponential return on investment, quantifies and monetises the business outcomes, operational efficiency and environmental impact of our solutions. It delivers the best possible outcomes at the lowest total delivered costs for operational and sustainable outcomes – in good times and in bad. 

Today, the world reclaims and reuses only 3% of the wastewater generated. What if we could double or even triple that figure? What if we could reach 10%? If we can do this by 2030, it would make a tremendous difference. And it is not a pipe dream – it can be accomplished with existing technology.

It will also save money.


“The World Bank estimates that globally every dollar spent on climate change adaptation brings an average of $4 in benefits to organisations.”

- Emilio Tenuta, Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Ecolab


So, let’s get it done. Because if we do, we will reduce energy and costs and achieve a future with water for all. And we will help Egypt and other water-stressed countries become more resilient. Isn’t that reason enough to adopt the bold solutions we need to accelerate actions to address the impacts of climate change?


 

About Ecolab

A trusted partner at nearly three million customer locations, Ecolab (ECL) is the global leader in water, hygiene and infection prevention solutions and services that help protect people, planet and business health. With annual sales of $13 billion and more than 47,000 associates, Ecolab delivers comprehensive science-based solutions, data-driven insights and world-class service to advance food safety, help maintain clean and safe environments, optimise water and energy use, and improve operational efficiencies and sustainability for customers in the food, healthcare, hospitality and industrial markets in more than 170 countries around the world.

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About the author

Emilio Tenuta is Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Ecolab. His 38-year tenure at Ecolab includes 25 years of technical, marketing, and business management experience in various industries including Food and Beverage, Pharmaceutical, Lodging, Healthcare, Primary Metals, and Automotive. In the past 11 years, Tenuta has led Ecolab’s strategic sustainability journey focused on corporate responsibility, internal environmental stewardship, and helping customers operate more sustainably. He is actively involved in advancing global sustainability practices, with a significant focus on water stewardship and climate action. In recent years, he has become a leader in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices and reporting and has collaborated with a number of large impact investors. He sits on the board of directors of the World Environment Center, a global non-profit, non-advocacy organisation, and the leadership council of the Corporate Eco Forum.