Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Sanitation Service Chain and the Global Climate Impacts

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Civil Engineering


Greenhouse Gas emissions from sanitation systems are not well understood, particularly emissions from sanitation infrastructure in LMICs. Historical emissions factors are currently promoted for country reporting, which may be underestimating the true climate effects of GHG emissions from the Sanitation Service Chain. This is important to understand, since my early research has shown that underestimated emissions from Road-Based Sanitation Systems could potentially cause a best estimate temperature anomaly difference of 0.088 degree C in 2100, and an upper range of 0.173 degree C, when compared to the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway SSP2-4.5 baseline projection, when an impulse of forgotten GHG emissions from sanitation are added in 2020. The uncertainty ranges that produce the
GHG estimates used in the modelling, and which produce this higher-temperature anomaly value of
0.173 degree C in 2100 cannot be refined to an acceptable degree using current emissions accounting methods. Ergo, critical information, data and a general understanding of sanitation emissions is missing in the global knowledge-base. Simple technological choices or solutions already available to mitigate these emissions may be missed during sanitation project implementation phases, since climate-backed data to aid planning does not exist.

The project will be carried out through a three-pronged approach:
-Desk-based project work to run initial climate models to refine initial findings, to complete a systematic review of GHG emissions from sanitation systems, and to further refine climate projects against suitable baselines once more information has been gained through the PhD.
-Laboratory studies to test portable gas measuring technologies which could be used in both HICS and LMICs to improve emissions measurement data from a range of SSC elements, and to create technologies and methodologies needed for the PhD.
-Fieldwork to test these new methodologies, collect data from previously under-valued sanitation GHG sources, and to inform the final climate modelling: A key impact output of the PhD.

Planned Impact

Water-WISER will train a cohort of 50 British research engineers and scientists and equip them to work in challenging environments both in the low-income settings of rapidly growing poor cities and in the changing urban environment of the UK, Europe and other regions with a historic endowment of aging infrastructure. The vision is for a generation of engineers with the skills to deliver the trans-disciplinary innovations needed to ensure that future water, waste and sanitation infrastructure is resilient to the stresses posed by rapid urbanisation, global climate change and increasingly extreme natural and man-made disasters. Our alumni will address the urgent need to re-imagine urban spaces as net contributors to ecological and environmental well-being rather than being net users of vital resources such as energy, nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon. These new leaders will be an essential resource if the UK is to deliver on its commitment to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 6 which calls for universal access to safely managed water and sanitation services, within planetary and local ecological boundaries. This next generation of research engineers will enable UK-based engineering consultancies, manufacturers, and utility companies to grow their share of the expanding global market for water and waste services, for example; in the water services industry from 3% to 10% (an increase of £33 billion per annum) by 2030, and attract significant inward investment.
The research which Water-WISER cohorts enable will form the basis of new innovations in the design and delivery of resilient infrastructure and services. Innovations developed by Water-WISER graduates will inform how growing cities are designed and built in the global south and will be used to inform the re-engineering and replacement of the aging infrastructure on which the UK's water and waste services are currently reliant. Our alumni will form the new generation of leaders who will play a central role in securing a larger share of the international water and waste management consultancy market to UK consultancies. The network of expertise and skills created by Water-WISER will enhance potential for collaborations between major UK players (for example strengthening links between UK consultancy, the Department for International Development, and leading UK water agencies such as WaterAid and Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor) and between UK companies and partners in the global south including international investors such as the World Bank, European Investment Bank, African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the International Finance Corporation. Graduates of Water-WISER will enter industry, academia and development agencies having spent a substantial period (minimum of six months) embedded in an industry or development partner organisation delivering their field-based research. Water-WISER students will thus gain a unique combination of trans-disciplinary training, field experience and cohort networking; they are destined for leadership roles in UK and international engineering and development consultancies, academia, international development banks, international agencies such as the United Nations and international non-governmental organisations.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S022066/1 01/06/2019 30/11/2027
2750095 Studentship EP/S022066/1 01/10/2022 30/09/2026 Benedict Smeaton-Russell