Better hydro on the cards after World Congress
Held in Africa for the first time, the continent’s hydropower potential was a major focus of the Congress as was the need to make hydropower development in Africa – and indeed across the world – more sustainable.
While the African Union Commission reiterated the commitment of all African countries towards better hydro, the UN Economic Commission for stressed that better hydro would play a key role in the structural transformation and called for climate resilience to be fully integrated into better hydro.
In addition, Global Energy Interconnection Development Organization (GEIDCO), which co-organised the Congress, committed to improving electrification and building a sustainable energy future for Africa.
“With so much untapped potential and so many unsustainable hydropower projects on Africa’s drawing board, it was critical that the Congress came to the continent – and that it wrapped up with such significant commitments from the African Union to Chinese energy companies,” said Professor Jian-hua Meng, WWF Global Hydropower Expert.
“There is no doubt that the rhetoric of the hydropower sector is shifting towards sustainable hydro but these reiterated commitments must now be transformed into concrete action, including a system-wide approach to hydropower planning,development and operations,” added Meng.
Indeed, this was the first of WWF’s commitments at the Congress – to foster the adoption of system-scale planning to enable inclusive, prior, well-informed choices by working with partners such as the International Hydropower Association (IHA) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to implement Hydropower by Design principles.
In addition, WWF confirmed that it would continue to engage with efforts to broaden the use of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, to support the governance and integrity of the Protocol, and to monitor developments to ensure that valuable natural assets are protected for the benefit of people and nature.
Meanwhile, two of the major Chinese players in the field committed to boosting electricity provision and better hydro in Africa.
The China Three Gorges Corporation announced that it would partner with IHA, NGOs and development agencies to build capacity and expertise in order to assist African countries to harness their water and hydropower resources in a sustainable way.
China Electric Power Equipment and Technology Co Ltd expressed the need to improve interconnection and boost the construction of cross-continental and national smart grids, and reaffirmed the company’s commitment to the World Hydropower Congress and the better hydro cause.
Along with many broad commitments, there were some specific announcements, including the The Nature Conservancy’s support for the development of a National Strategic Environmental Assessment for the hydropower sector in Gabon, where it would also assist with the first application of the Sustainability Assessment protocol in a francophone country outside of France.
Wrapping up the session, IHA President Ken Adams announced the launch of the Better Hydro Compendium of Case Studies 2017 – a collection of examples of good practice in sustainable hydropower.
“The compendium shows that hydropower development can be done well, it can be done right,” said Adams. “Debates at this Congress show we’re doing our part to tackle the huge challenges ahead of us, and we will continue to do so.”
But it will take more than pledges in a conference hall in Addis Ababa to pave the way for more sustainable hydropower developments across the world – developments that provide much-needed extra electricity through low-carbon systems without destroying rivers and freshwater ecosystems.
“This Congress built on the success of the previous event in Beijing in 2015 but there is still enormous pressure to construct more dams of any size in the last remaining free-flowing rivers,” said Meng. “Planning on system scale according to the ‘Hydropower by Design’ principles is the obvious and best approach for countries and communities, businesses and nature – and this Congress has given a real boost to efforts to promote its worldwide use.