Posted on 24 September 2021
UN Energy Summit coincides with conclusion of the World Hydropower Congress
The direction of the world’s renewable energy future is the focus of the global agenda today – with the landmark UN High Level Dialogue on Energy in New York and the end of the World Hydropower Congress.
With the world facing two fundamental crises – climate change and nature loss – it’s critical that countries urgently and drastically expand renewable energy generation, but they cannot do it at the expense of nature.
And they no longer have to. Thanks to the renewable revolution – driven by the plunging price of solar and wind generation, and storage technologies – we can now meet global climate and energy goals without harming communities, driving greater nature loss, or damming our remaining free flowing rivers and sacrificing all the diverse benefits they provide to people and nature.
As the recent report from WWF and TNC makes clear, we can now create A Brighter Future
for climate, people, rivers and nature by developing power systems that are LowCx3 - low carbon, low cost and low conflict with communities and nature.
But this requires all of us to play a role to ensure that we invest in the Right Renewables in the Right Places.
The UN Energy Summit is an historic opportunity for countries to commit to this approach. Not only to outline their transition to a renewable future but also make it clear that they will follow a LowCx3 approach.
In particular, it is time for countries – as well as developers and investors – to move away from high impact hydropower.
Fragmentation of rivers by hydropower dams is one of the leading causes of the 84% collapse in freshwater species populations since 1970. It is also the primary reason that only 1/3rd of the world’s big rivers are still free-flowing – and most of these are still threatened by planned hydropower projects.
Indeed, if built, planned hydropower would fragment 260,000km of free flowing rivers, including most of the remaining large, free-flowing rivers in the tropics, which support the greatest diversity of species and the greatest values to people.
And these planned dams on free flowing rivers would produce less than 2% of the renewable energy needed by 2050 to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. It is tiny contribution to mitigating climate change that would have devastating consequences for our remaining free flowing rivers, and the people and nature that depend on them.
But recent decisions during the World Hydropower Congress represent a step forward for the sector, including the adoption today by the International Hydropower Association (IHA) of the San Jose Declaration, which commits signatories to lower impact hydropower in future – clearly stating that the ‘only acceptable hydropower is sustainable hydropower’.
However, the Declaration fails to acknowledge the huge impact high impact hydropower has had on rivers, communities and nature; incorrectly labels hydropower as a green solution to climate change; and its commitments in relation to Protected Area do not go nearly far enough.
Whether signatories - including developers, investors and governments - follow through on the commitments or continue to put profit before people and planet remains to be seen. But If the Declaration were rigorously implemented, there should be a rapid decline in the number of destructive hydropower projects - many of which will cause severe conflicts with communities, rivers and nature.
In particular, rigorous implementation would help to protect high value, free-flowing rivers. Indeed, it is likely that none of the hydropower projects outlined in WWF’s 10 Rivers at Risk report
would be built, safeguarding those iconic free flowing rivers and the benefits they provide to people and nature.