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Consumers “alarmed” by impact of climate change on Scotland’s water resources

In a new report published by the statutory consumer body, Consumer Scotland, consumers in Scotland have expressed their alarm about the impact of climate change on Scotland’s water resources and have called for action to tackle the problem.

Consumers who took part in research, carried out by Ipsos on behalf of Consumer Scotland initially said they knew very little about the impact of climate change on water services in Scotland.

However, during a series of five workshops over a six-week period, participants were alarmed as they learned more about the impact of climate change.

As the in-depth study progressed, it became clear to them there was a need for urgent action to find long-term solutions to the climate-related problems facing Scotland.

The last few summers have seen regular water scarcity alerts from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and according to Scottish Water’s latest projections, without adaptation, by 2050 Scotland could be running short of 240 million litres of water a day.

Climate change also increases the likelihood of more frequent and extreme storms, leading to a higher risk of flooding and the potential for a greater number of sewage spills into the environment.

Based on the findings, Consumer Scotland has made a number of recommendations, including:

  • The Scottish Government should work with Scottish Water and the wider sector on national strategies to improve future water resources management and water efficiency
  • The Scottish Government should take a lead role, with support from Scottish Water, SEPA, and local authorities, to develop legislation to promote environmental solutions that help alleviate flooding, including incentives to ensure the uptake of sustainable drainage solutions in new housing projects
  • Targeted water sector information campaigns reinforcing the importance of consumers using water resources sustainably and taking responsibility for reducing strain on the sewerage system – including avoiding the use of ‘flushable’ wipes
  • Any new legislation should avoid detriment to low-income consumers and those in vulnerable circumstances.

Consumer Scotland Head of Water Gail Walker said:

“Over the course of the research participants developed their understanding of the challenges and reached broad agreement that Scotland’s water sector needed to be ambitious in its approaches to tackling climate change impacts.

“There was a recognition that individual consumers will have a key role to play whether through reducing personal water consumption or avoiding the disposal of inappropriate items down sinks or toilets.

“There was also a clear appetite for more information and a desire to see behavioural change supported by wider, systemic action.

“There is now a need for more targeted information and clear leadership from the Scottish Government and Scottish Water to ensure consumers understand how they can play their full part in tackling climate change.”

Since 2022, Consumer Scotland has participated in the Scottish Government’s water sector policy development process. As part of this, they identified a research need to better understand the views of domestic consumers on how Scotland’s water, wastewater and drainage services should be adapted to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The Consumer Scotland research delivered by Ipsos involved 41 individuals from across Scotland who took part in five three-hour online workshops between October and November 2023. The sample was recruited to be broadly reflective of the population in Scotland.

The Consumer views on climate adaptation in the water sector – water efficiency report is available on the Consumer Scotland website.

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