Protests Challenge Hydropower Companies at Global Event in Paris
Photo: Todd Southgate.
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Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Civil society organizations denounce corporate attempts to label hydroelectric dams as “green energy,” citing human rights abuses and environmental damage.
Paris, France—A coalition of activists, organizations and indigenous leaders convened a series of events this week in light of the opening of the World Hydropower Conference, calling attention to the socially and environmentally destructive nature of hydroelectric dams, as well at their climate-aggravating impacts.
From May 14-16, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) is hosting its biannual World Hydropower Congress in central Paris. The industry seeks to portray hydroelectric dams as a clean source of renewable energy, which they claim are essential for delivering the Paris Climate Agreement and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
However, a broad coalition of environmental and human rights organizations, together with social movements, argue that the dam industry’s claims amount to greenwashing, and are aimed at capturing new sources of finance from institutions like the Green Climate Fund. They point to numerous cases where hydropower projects have provoked disastrous consequences for people and the environment.
Citing mounting scientific evidence that dams are a significant source of greenhouse gases—CO2and, particularly, methane—civil society groups also highlight the role of dams in aggravating climate change.
A joint statement signed by more than 250 civil society groups from 70 countries calls attention to the false promises of hydropower and the urgent need for truly sustainable energy solutions. It is available in five languages.
These and other issues—including the impacts of hydroelectric dams on natural and cultural heritage sites—were debated by scientists, activists and representatives of affected communities from Brazil, Colombia, Myanmar and Turkey in a parallel event to the IHA Congress, held at the Town Hall of the 6thArrondissement of Paris on May 13. The conference was organized by the NGOs Planète Amazone, GegenStrömung / CounterCurrent, Rivers without Boundaries, International Rivers, and AIDA.
Myint Zaw, an activist and researcher from Myanmar who was awarded the 2015 Goldman Prize, was one of the speakers at the conference.
“The food security of millions of people is threatened by dam projects planned for the Irrawaddy River that would impact important farmlands needed for rice production along the river and in delta region,” Zaw said.
During Tuesday’s opening of the World Hydropower Congress, representatives of indigenous communities, social movements and non-governmental organizations protested together with activists from Extinction Rebellion in front of the Espace Grande Arche in La Défense. A focus of the protest was to call attention to the growing number of human rights and environmental activists murdered in dam-related conflicts.
“Miguel Ángel Pabón Pabón disappeared as a result of his activism against the Hidrosogamoso Dam in Colombia, which has continued despite severe human rights violations,“ said Juan Pablo Soler from Movimiento Ríos Vívos of Colombia, mentioning one of many defenders lost.
In Gabon, the Kingélé and Tchimbélé dams are adversely affecting populations living beside rivers.
“During heavy rains, some villages are flooded when reservoirs overflow. Rivers turn into lakes, water becomes polluted and fish die intoxicated. There is no structure to help us on the ground, nor does the government hear our complaints, which is why we look abroad to issue a distress call,” proclaimed Assossa, a Pigmy leader.
Three representatives of the Munduruku people from the Brazilian Amazon—Chief Arnaldo Kabá, Alessandra Korap and Candido Waro Munduruku—participated in both the parallel conference and the protest.
After the protest, the Munduruku attempted to hand deliver a letter to the corporate headquarters of Électricité de France (EDF), majority-controlled by the French government. EDF is involved in the controversial Sinop dam on the Teles Pires River, a tributary of the Tapajos, and has contributed to studies that promote the São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam, which would flood Munduruku territory.
EDF representatives refused to speak with the Munduruku leaders.
“EDF invades our territory, destroys our rivers, our territory and our sacred places. And when we come here to deliver a letter to this huge company, we’re barred,” stated Alessandra Munduruku. “We’re sad, but we’re determined to continue our struggle to defend our territory.”