World Congress set to shape the future of hydropower | WWF

World Congress set to shape the future of hydropower

Posted on
09 May 2017
Hydropower has been the source of fierce debates and disagreements for decades. Conflicts will intensify as countries fail to reconcile the need to provide adequate electricity provision with the imperative to reduce carbon emissions and to conserve critical river ecosystems and healthy rivers – unless governments, funders and developers and societies agree to adopt a more sustainable approach to hydropower.

Which brings us to the 6th World Hydropower Congress taking place in Addis Ababa from May 9-11th.

With installed hydropower capacity set to more than double by 2050, this Congress has a central role to play in shaping the path of hydropower development over the coming decades with the aim of ensuring reliable and resilient water and energy systems for all.

“We left the last Congress in Beijing in 2015 with a sense of optimism but we have continued to see detrimental and controversial hydropower projects going ahead in some of the world’s most sensitive river systems, including many of the last, large, free flowing, tropical rivers,” said Professor Jian-hua Meng, Global Hydropower Expert at WWF, which is an official partner of the Congress.

“We expect this Congress to build on the commitments made by the hydropower sector in Beijing and ensure that governments, financial institutions and companies take concrete steps towards sustainable hydropower and steer clear of irresponsible and unsustainable developments,” added Meng, who is also Chair of the Environmental Chamber of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol.

Convened by the International Hydropower Association (IHA) with the support of the World Bank Group, the African Union Commission and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, this is the first Congress to be held in Africa.

And it couldn’t be more timely as African countries – like many others around the globe – are looking to invest in hydropower as a way of ending energy poverty and improving access to electricity in a climate-constrained world.

But will be possible to achieve this without destroying the rivers and ecosystems on which tens of millions of people depend?

“To successfully navigate through the dilemmas of the energy-climate-nature challenge will require new approaches to hydropower planning,” said Dr Jeff Opperman, WWF Global Freshwater Science Lead, who is participating in a major panel discussion at the Congress.

“In a report launched this week – The Power of Rivers: a business case – I, colleagues at The Nature Conservancy and several partners argue that shifting hydropower planning and management to the system scale must be the foundation of any new approach. And that this will benefit businesses, people, rivers and the planet,” added Opperman.

In the meantime, it is essential to speed up implementation of the IHA’s ten commitments made in Beijing and welcomed by WWF, including enhancing knowledge sharing on key topics such as long-distance and long-term consequences of dam sediment trapping, expanding the use of tools that measure and report on sustainability performance, increasing transparency in decision-making, and calling on all players to utilise the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol.

“The Beijing commitments are a clear sign that there is deep understanding by leaders within the hydropower sector of the need to value the living river systems in which dams are built and operate, and to assess hydropower developments against strong criteria for sustainability,” said Meng.

“It is critical that this Congress helps to transform this understanding into urgent action, so that countries and financial institutions stop green lighting projects that do more harm than good.”
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