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An aerial view of the Amazon jungle surrounding the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil.

The False Promises of Hydropower


How dams fail to deliver the Paris Climate Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals

A Joint Statement by Civil Society Organizations on occasion of the 2019 World Hydropower Congress in Paris, France

We live in an age of urgency. Scientists have warned that we have little time to act to bring climate change under control and protect the integrity of life on our planet.

Confronting the climate crisis requires creative solutions that both protect nature and respect human rights. Facing these challenges, we cannot remain silent onlookers while corporate profiteers, financiers, and their allies peddle false solutions for addressing climate change and implementing sustainable development.

A flagrant example of such deception is the attempt to portray large hydroelectric dams as a ‘clean and green’ source of energy, as can be seen at the 2019 World Hydropower Congress. Organized in Paris by the industrial lobby of the International Hydropower Association (IHA) in partnership with UNESCO, the conference’s title reads, “Delivering the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.”  

Such glossy portrayals of hydroelectric dam projects—with an eye toward capturing financial incentives through mechanisms like Climate Bonds and the Green Climate Fund—conveniently ignore a long legacy of social and environmental catastrophes, economic waste and, all too often, massive corruption schemes that are the antithesis of truly sustainable development.


A Call for Action

The undersigned civil society organizations call on the members of the International Hydropower Association, governments and international financial institutions to implement the following urgent actions: 

  • Steer priorities, investments and financial incentives away from additional hydroelectric projects and towards energy efficiency and truly sustainable renewable energy options (solar, wind and biomass and, when appropriate, micro-hydro). Special attention should be given to opportunities for technological innovation, decentralized generation and improving energy access among isolated, off-grid communities.
  • Eliminate financial incentives for new hydroelectric projects within climate change mechanisms, such as the Green Climate Fund and Nationally Determined Contributions, and within programs to promote implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (with the possible exception of micro-hydro projects).
  • Commission independent audits of controversial existing dam projects and basin-wide cascades in terms of their social and environmental consequences, identifying steps to mitigate impacts and ensure just reparations for affected communities, based on direct consultations. When such measures are prohibitively expensive or otherwise inviable, the de-commissioning of dam projects should be promoted. 
  • Ensure the alignment of operational procedures for existing hydroprojects with relevant territorial plans at the basin level, such as integrated water resource management and protected areas that ensure key ecological processes and the rights of local communities, based on the concepts and tools of participatory, adaptive management.
  • Ensure that renewable energy policies and projects adopt, across the board, robust guidelines to safeguard human rights and environmental protections, such as ILO Convention 169 and the UN Principles on Business and Human Rights. No energy facilities that potentially impact the territories and livelihoods of indigenous peoples and other traditional communities should be authorized without obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of the community and ensuring the cooperative design of co-management strategies.

Among the benefits of such a paradigm shift in energy strategies and development planning will be major contributions toward protecting the world’s last free-flowing rivers, vital for climate resiliency, biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods. 

Energy companies and governments must halt all efforts to dam the world’s remaining free-flowing rivers and concentrate instead on: i) improving efficiency and the sustainability of existing hydropower projects and cascades; and ii) investing in energy efficiency and truly sustainable renewables. 

Moreover, governments must urgently promote the permanent legal protection of the world’s last free-flowing rivers, including transboundary watercourses, with due respect for the territorial rights of indigenous peoples and other traditional communities, who play fundamental roles as the guardians of healthy rivers.

Read the Full Statement Here

PDF icon Statement_False Promises of Hydropower_5-13-2019.pdf

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