How Waterways Can Help
Our inland waterways face unprecedented challenges from damage caused by weather extremes; but they can also be part of the solution by mitigating as well as adapting to the impacts of climate change. Waterways have the potential to address many impacts of climate change, through mitigating flooding and droughts, transferring drinking water supplies and generating hydropower. They can also provide active travel and low-carbon transport routes and more freight on commercial waterways will reduce lorry movements on the roads.
Waterways will also need to adapt to meet zero emissions targets – sustainable fuels, electric charging points and other associated infrastructure is required. Innovative solutions such as using canal water to reduce urban temperatures as well as heating and cooling buildings are being implemented.
Moving goods by water is intrinsically more energy efficient than road or rail but more incentives are required in the form of grants, capital funding or subsidies to achieve the economic, social and environmental benefits. The existing Modal Shift Revenue Support grant should give more weight to the environmental benefits of waterborne transport. Existing wharves need greater protection through the planning system.
Water is a precious commodity and the increasing need to transfer it to areas of drought is better handled through open waterways than more costly pipeline schemes. Other benefits include preserving heritage, positive impacts on the water environment, biodiversity and ecology, social and amenity value through recreational use, and the potential for reduced carbon impact through re-purposing existing infrastructure, low carbon heating and cooling opportunities.
The Department for Transport’s Clean Maritime Plan outlines specific measures to tackle air pollutant emissions from the UK’s maritime and inland waterways sectors, with a long-term transition to low and eventually zero emissions. Investment in infrastructure and the availability of affordable biofuels is needed for this to happen.