Climate initiatives must keep out large hydropower projects, say environmentalists

Thursday 03 December 2015

Hydro projects emit methane, make water and energy systems vulnerable to climate change, cause severe damage to ecosystems and affect locals

Though large hydropower projects are often presented as a “clean and green” source of energy, nothing can be further from the truth
Credit: Deni Williams/Flickr

In a manifesto released on Thursday, a group of more than 300 civil society organisations from 53 countries called on governments and financiers in Paris to keep large hydropower projects out of climate initiatives.

Large hydropower projects emit massive amount of methane, make water and energy systems vulnerable to climate change, cause severe damage to ecosystems and affect local communities.

“Particularly, in tropical regions, hydropower reservoirs emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases, comparable to the climate impact of the aviation sector,” Peter Bosshard, interim Executive Director of International Rivers said.

“For environmental, social and economic reasons, large hydropower projects are a false solution to climate change.”

“Large hydropower projects have serious impacts on local communities and often violate the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, cultural integrity and free, prior informed consent,” Joan Carling, secretary general of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), said.

“The resistance of dam-affected communities has often been met with egregious human rights violations.”

“Hydropower dams make water and energy systems more vulnerable to climate change,” Himanshu Thakkar, the founder of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), said.

Dams and disaster

Large hydropower projects are often propagated as a “clean and green” source of electricity by international financial institutions and national governments.

They benefit from instruments meant to address climate change, including carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), credits from the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds and special financial terms from export credit agencies and green bonds.

The dam industry advocates that large hydropower projects should be funded by the Green Climate Fund. Many governments boost them as a response to climate change through national initiatives. At least, 12 governments with major hydropower sectors have included an expansion of hydropower generation in their reports on Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). At present, more than 3,700 hydropower dams are being planned or are under construction around the world.

Below are some of the points which show why big dams often spell disaster for the environment:

  • They emit as much greenhouse gas as the entire global aviation industry
  • They stop rivers from acting as carbon sinks
  • They make countries more vulnerable to climate change
  • And they destroy critical ecosystems that climate policies are supposed to protect in the first place

As world leaders converge in Paris for COP21, there is hope for action on climate crisis. Though large hydropower projects are often presented as a “clean and green” source of energy, nothing can be further from the truth.

Next week, a global coalition of civil society groups will launch “Ten Reasons Why Climate Initiatives Should Not Include Large Hydropower Projects”, to let decision-makers know that large hydro projects should play no role in climate change initiatives.

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