We monitor the internal and external business environment, to identify and review new and emerging risks to our strategy or operations and emerging circumstances of existing risk that could affect our risk exposure in the short to medium term. If new and emerging risks or circumstances are too far into the future or we lack sufficient detail to make a reliable quantification, they are summarised as a watching brief and reported to the corporate responsibility committee and to the board in the six-monthly reporting cycle.

Some new and emerging risks of note are listed below, with emerging circumstances of existing risk included within the list of current key risks, issues and uncertainties in the principal risks table in Our risk management.

Emerging risk/issueStrategic
Climate change
While not new as a risk/issue, climate change is an ever emerging risk in terms of understanding the extent of extreme weather and the return frequency of such events. As an organisation responsible for essential services and infrastructure, we are required under the Climate Change Act 2008 to prepare for a changing climate and understand and consider how we intend to manage material risks to which climate change contributes including:
  • More frequent and/or higher magnitude drought events in summer;
  • Higher rainfall in winter; and
  • More occurrences of heavy rainfall.
Water scarcity
The Environment Agency has warned of water supply shortages in England by 2050. In particular, London's demand is expected to exceed supply in the next decade due to relatively low rainfall, growing population and drier summers. United Utilities has been proactive in the opportunity for the strategic transfer of water from the North West to the South East of England, incorporating an option in the 2019 Water Resources Management Plan (WRMP) for onward transfer in the 2030s. While this is an opportunity, it also brings a number of service, commercial and reputational risks which we will continue to consider, monitor and manage.
There is currently considerable attention on single-use plastics and microplastic pollution. The water industry has a role to play in understanding how this material gets into the water environment and this may present potential operational and reputational risks. We will continue to keep a watching brief on the situation and are involved in research projects to better understand any risks to human health or the environment regarding this, and will continue to monitor developments carefully.
Biosolids to agriculture is currently recognised by the government as the best practicable environmental option, but other jurisdictions adopt different approaches to biosolids disposal creating a potential risk that this could extend to the UK in the long term. We do not currently expect any change in this regard but will continue to keep a watching brief on the situation, noting that several research projects are underway to understand these risks and identify solutions.