A landmark Global declaration titled “RIVERS FOR CLIMATE” was launched on Sept 21, 2021, endorsed already by 300 organisations from 69 countries calling on governments and leaders attending COP26 (Conference of Parties meeting 26) to protect river ecosystems and stop using scarce climate funds to finance false climate solutions such as hydropower. Representing the views of civil society, peoples movements, Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, scientists, and conservationists, the declaration called out the proliferation schemes being peddled under an erroneous pretense of sustainability.
“Hydropower is not clean energy. We’re at an unprecedented moment in history; facing the triple threats of a runaway climate crisis, large-scale biodiversity loss, and a global pandemic,” said Chris Wilke, Global Advocacy Manager for Waterkeeper Alliance. “We simply cannot waste time, funding, and scarce resources on false solutions that distract us from what is really needed to address the multiple crises we face.”
This call to world leaders is based on growing scientific and social impact evidence of the dangers associated with hydropower dams and the risks of pursuing investment in dams for climate change mitigation. In the Global Declaration the groups hold that:
● Free-flowing rivers, wetlands, and natural lakes have immense value for the welfare of the ecosystems they sustain, humankind, and survival on the planet. These water bodies and the biodiversity they sustain are important adaptation resources for the vast number of people dependent on them. Rivers can also play a central, often spiritual, and cultural role for many Indigenous riparian communities. These life-giving systems are being destroyed by growing pressure from a variety of sources, chief among them hydropower projects.
● Rivers play a vital role in sequestering carbon and building climate resiliency, yet hydropower dams prevent rivers from serving these critical functions. Rivers help regulate an increasingly volatile global carbon cycle by drawing an estimated 200 million tons of carbon out of the air each year.
● Hydropower dams are vulnerable to climate change and will be further impacted by changing hydrology. Our climate and hydrological cycles are changing, but hydropower dams are particularly ill-suited to adapt to these changes. Unprecedented floods, landslides, and other such disasters exacerbated by climate change are already threatening the safety of dams around the world, with more extreme weather events elevating the risk of catastrophic dam collapses.
Microsoft Word – Declaration on Hydro and Climate – Sept 21.docx
Rivers play a vital role in sequestering carbon and building climate resiliency, yet hydropower dams prevent rivers from serving these critical functions. Rivers help regulate an increasingly volatile global carbon cycle by drawing an estimated 200 million tons of carbon out of the air each year. Dams, however, block the natural carbon sequestrations cycle of watersheds. Healthy rivers and their catchments are also critical to building climate resilience by reducing the impacts of floods and droughts, recharging groundwater supplies, sustaining fisheries, maintaining local ecosystems, and transporting sediment and nutrients downstream. Dams interrupt these processes, prompting erosion and coastal flooding, further reducing ecosystem resiliency, undermining food security for people, causing population displacement, and risking conflict with downstream neighbors.
Microsoft Word – Declaration on Hydro and Climate – Sept 21.docx
Adding more dams will exacerbate methane emissions at precisely the time IPCC warns they must be dramatically reduced. Hydropower reservoirs are a significant contributor to the climate crisis, primarily through emitting vast quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent in the near term than carbon dioxide. Despite efforts by the hydropower industry to obscure the GHG footprint of dams, dam reservoirs are estimated to emit 1 billion tons of greenhouse gases per year, and scientists have found in some cases that dam reservoirs can emit more greenhouse gases than coal-fired power plants. Methane emissions from dams are typically much higher in the first years of operation, and thus new dams would contribute to a spike in emissions at the precise moment the IPCC urgently warns that we must drastically cut methane emissions to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. For writings on methane emissions by Prof Philip Fearnside, see: http://philip.inpa.gov.br.
The full declaration can be seen here:
https://www.internationalrivers.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/86/2021/09/Rivers-for-Climate-Global-Declaration-Sept-21.pdf. It also has link for further endorsements: https://bit.ly/3hRUsGL.
Here is the link to the press release:
The video from the press conference can be accessed on facebook (where it streamed live) at
SANDRP at the Press Conference: Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP said at the press conference held on Sept 21, 2021: “Sustainable Hydro as a solution to climate change is a myth. Experience on ground show that hydropower projects act as force multiplier for the climate change impacts, thus worsening the climate crisis. Particularly for the vast millions of people who depend on the rivers, forests, biodiversity and floodplains for their food and livelihood security. The mountains like the western ghats and Himalayas in India and South Asia where most of the hydropower projects are planned, are already vulnerable to numerous kinds of disasters, which are worsened by the impacts of climate change. This is evident from accelerated frequency, intensity and spread of the numerous Himalayan disasters in South Asia over the last decade or so.”
– “Building and operating hydropower projects in these areas are worsening the disaster potential and vulnerabilities many fold and destroying the resilience options for the rivers and mountains dependent communities. Any claim to the contrary by the hydropower industry or the International Hydropower Association will not stand to independent scrutiny, as was seen during the work of the World Commission on Dams. Hydropower projects are also hugely, adversely impacted by climate change in numerous ways including structural and operational aspects and power generation.”
– “Big hydro today is no longer viable even in a narrow economic matrix, as much better and cheaper options are available. This is evident from the en masse exit of private sector from hydro projects in India. So there is absolutely no case for leaders attending the COP26 to consider hydro industry claims for allocation of scarce climate finance funds for hydropower projects in the name of addressing the climate crisis. Any such allocation will be counter-productive for our efforts to address the climate crisis. It will further impoverish the impoverished mountain and riverine communities. The available scarce funds must rather be used for rejuvenation of forests, rivers and biodiversity.”
In Conclusion: “Hydropower is an outdated technology that has outlived its usefulness, which is why the industry is desperate for new funding sources to revive its declining fortunes,” says Josh Klemm of International Rivers. “Climate funds must be deployed to catalyze the energy transformation that can see us through the climate crisis, and not business-as-usual approaches that got us here.”
POST SCRIPT: Media coverage of the Press Conference:
1. https://english.lokmat.com/international/no-climate-finance-for-hydropower-rivers-for-climate-declaration/, https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/no-climate-finance-for-hydropower-rivers-for-climate-declaration-121092300202_1.html, https://daijiworld.com/news/newsDisplay?newsID=876160