WWF welcomes new hydropower sustainability tool as alternative to dams conflict

Posted on 16 June 2011
The Yangtze River is the river most at risk from dams, with 46 large dams planned or under construction.
The Yangtze River is the river most at risk from dams, with 46 large dams planned or under construction.
© Michel Gunther / WWF
Iguassa, Brazil: WWF has welcomed a new tool that will take much of the guesswork out of where – and where not – to site major dams and how to operate them with the fewest adverse effects on communities and the environment.

The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, developed over 3 years with input from utilities, public authorities, banks, and environmental and social groups, was officially launched today at the International Hydropower Association (IHA) Congress.

“Dam building is a complex process. It affects communities, ecosystems and economies, and often pits their interests against one another. With pressure to create safe, low-carbon energy sources, we can expect dramatic expansion of hydropower. But we can mitigate the conflicts if we thoughtfully and thoroughly assess potential environmental, economic and social impacts,” said WWF Water Security Leader Dr Joerg Hartmann, who led WWF’s contribution to developing the protocol.

“For communities, this new protocol is a mechanism for ensuring their concerns are seriously addressed early in the process, and not after many of the crucial decisions have already been taken by companies and governments.

“For companies, it is a mechanism to avoid expensive projects that provoke needless conflict and fail to deliver predicted returns.”

The IHA and other stakeholders also set up a council that will oversee the use of the protocol, on which WWF is represented.

“WWF is committed to supporting this process and making sure that assessments are reliable, that the tool is used for sustainability assessments and not for greenwashing, and that no claims as to the sustainability of projects are made that can’t be backed up,” Dr Hartmann said.

“Some rivers are more valuable without dams than with them, and one of WWF’s continuing concerns will be to identify rivers that should be kept flowing freely, such as the mainstream lower Mekong and the Moraca River in Montenegro.

“These are the sites of highly controversial projects that risk immense damage to rivers and river-dependent communities that are being justified on the basis of superficial assessments.” A comprehensive assessment as outlined in the protocol would look at projects during their planning, preparation, implementation and operation stages.

Amazon faces explosion in dams

IHA conference host country Brazil and its neighbours are also facing an explosion in dam proposals across the Amazon that would benefit from early application of the Sustainability Assessment Protocol, according to Pedro Bara Neto, Head of the Free Flowing Rivers & Forest Friendly Roads Program of WWF’s Living Amazon Initiative.

In the southern Peruvian Amazon, at least four hydropower projects are planned throughout a territory inhabited by indigenous peoples such as the Ashaninkas, which has led to serious questions about the underlying technical and social criteria of such initiatives.

Likewise, in the Tapajós river basin in Brazil, 11 out of 13 planned projects are expected to be built during the next decade. WWF is advocating a basin-wide approach, in order to minimize impact on this fragile ecosystem. Such an approach would identify the rivers with the highest conservation value in order to steer development away from them.

“There are no silver bullets in conservation, especially in an area as rich and complex as the Amazon, but these new tools provide better opportunities than ever before to support informed decisions based on objective, scientific facts,” said Bara Neto.

For further information:
Tapajós river video:
English: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slUAEXuuDJs
Português: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=av_G5uYwQW4
Español: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkPc29L3_6s

For further information:

• Waldemar Gadelha Neto, WWF Brazil, gadelhaneto@wwf.org.br
• Kjeld Nielsen, WWF-Living Amazon Initiative, Kjeld.Nielsen@wwfperu.org

About WWF

WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.
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