SPAN chairman Charles Santiago says Malaysia lacks focus in ensuring carbon neutrality in water sector

The Malaysian government needs to invest RM30 billion over the next three years to regulate the water industry as a way of responding to the global climate emergency

National Water Services Commission (SPAN) chairman, Charles Santiago, says the water and energy nexus are interlinked because significant water resources are crucial to developing new energy resources, including hydropower.

Santiago, who spoke at the Malaysian Pavilion at the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at Expo City in Dubai on Dec 6, said the key is to ensure adequate water supply, while creating carbon neutrality in both the treatment of drinking water and wastewater utilities.

“Disappointingly, there was a lack of focus on the crucial role water management plays in mitigating climate change at the COP28 summit that I am currently attending in Dubai.”

Santiago said Malaysia needed a two-pronged water decarbonisation strategy: reducing carbon footprints via the treatment of drinking water and wastewater utilities to reduce direct/indirect greenhouse gas emissions related to wastewater treatment and discharge, plus energy efficiency measures.

“But in Malaysia, we lack focus in ensuring Net Zero (carbon neutrality) in the water sector. For example, every cubic metre of water consumed generates 10.6kg of emissions,” he said.

“And non-revenue water is a huge source of wastage. It adds to the operating costs, while leaks hamper the sustainable management of water services.”

He said this means that the government, businesses, and citizens, must work together to manage water resources, conduct crucial repairs, and use water responsibly to manage climate uncertainty.

“We need to recycle and reclaim water from waste water for industrial and construction use, develop more water storage/coastal reservoirs, upgrade water infrastructure, and gazette water catchment areas, plus water reserves, during droughts.

He added state water operators must also make a public pledge to realise Net Zero emissions by 2034.

Santiago noted that SPAN was working with Malaysia Green Technology and Climate Change Corporation (MGTC) to use Low Carbon Operating Systems to track greenhouse gas emissions in water treatment plants, to ensure low energy usage and a reduction in treatment costs.

“We are facing a climate emergency. We need to treat water as part of our national security. We need to protect access to water as a national priority, given climate uncertainty,” he said.

“The National Water Research Institute of Malaysia (NAHRIM) says Malaysia will face droughts between 2030 and 2050. This is alarming as an insufficient water supply could affect businesses, as they can’t expand or maximise production. Neither can a water decarbonisation plan be put in place.”

Santiago added there was a need to decarbonise the treatment of drinking water/sewerage sectors, while at the same time, ensure enough water supply, given the climate uncertainties.

Postponing climate preparedness will be more costly in the future, and more importantly, push the country towards a climate catastrophe.