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Hydropower commitments on Protected Areas are a small step forward but not nearly enough

Posted on 07 September 2021

Hydropower sector pledges no more projects in World Heritage Sites and 'duty of care' for other Protected Areas
The International Hydropower Association (IHA) announced the sector's new commitments on Protected Areas during the IUCN World Conservation Congress - commitments that represent the first, very small step forward for an industry that has thousands of projects planned or under construction in protected areas.

Along with prohibiting new hydropower projects in World Heritage Sites, the IHA’s members must now implement high standards of performance and transparency when affecting other protected areas, as well as candidate protected areas and corridors between protected areas, under a special 'duty of care' commitment.

“Prohibiting hydropower projects in World Heritage Sites can be seen as the first step for the industry but it’s a very small step since this commitment does not rule out new developments in any other protected areas, including internationally protected Ramsar wetlands," said Stuart Orr, WWF Global Freshwater Lead. "The hydropower sector is clearly still committed to constructing dams and plants in protected areas, which will only exacerbate the nature crisis."

IHA should have expanded the ‘no-go’ commitment to include new projects on rivers that negatively impact World Heritage sites as well as new developments in other internationally and nationally protected areas. The commitment to a special duty of care for projects is an acknowledgement that the hydropower industry must act very differently but it is unclear whether this ‘duty of care’ will avoid future projects in or affecting Protected Areas.

"WWF calls on the hydropower sector to urgently expand its ‘no-go’ commitments beyond World Heritage Sites to other nationally and internationally protected areas - to avoid the construction of thousands of planned projects in protected areas and prevent irreparable damage to more of the world’s most important places for people and nature,” added Orr.

The announcement was made during the session 'No Go in World Heritage sites and other protected areas: success stories in leveraging the private sector and remaining challenges' at the IUCN Congress.
Hydropower plant on Soča River, Slovenia
Hydropower dam in Slovenia
© iStockphoto.com/Socha
Hydropower dam is currently being built in the Selous World Heritage Site
© Greg Armfield / WWF