A report published by WWF and The Nature Conservancy earlier this month claims that hydropower is unnecessary for meeting global climate change and clean energy goals thanks to the dramatic cost decreases seen in the solar, wind, and storage sectors.
Launched on the eve of the World Hydropower Congress held in Paris earlier this month, the new report, Connected and Flowing: A renewable future for rivers, climate and people, is based on contributions from multiple academics and finds that the accelerating development of wind and solar generation could feasibly prevent nearly 165,000 kilometers of river channels from being fragmented for damming and hydropower use.
The key point from the report, then, is that, as a planet, we can still limit global temperatures to an increase below 1.5⁰ C, as agreed in the Paris Climate Accord, without the use of hydropower. “For the first time, there are viable renewable alternatives to the high-impact hydropower dams that are currently proposed on many of the world’s free-flowing rivers, explain the authors of the report, “a development path that could trigger a range of negative impacts, including displacement of communities, the loss of productive freshwater fisheries, and much of the sediment needed to keep economically crucial deltas above the rising seas.”
Constructing and operating hydropower has a significant impact on rivers, fragmenting channels and redirecting the river’s natural route which, in turn, can destroy habitats, block fish migration routes, and threaten already vulnerable species. With thousands of hydropower dams still projected to be built across Europe, WWF and The Nature Conservancy are calling on the European Union and surrounding countries to abandon their plans. Particularly, it is hoped that plans for future dams will be cancelled in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, home to some of the continent’s most pristine and few remaining free flowing rivers.
In the end, the report outlines ways in which the planet can move towards electricity systems which are not only low-carbon and low-cost, but are also low-impact.
“Clean energy does not equal green energy,” said Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF’s European Policy Office. “In Europe we have at least 25,000 hydropower plants in operation, and it is the rivers, wildlife, and communities living alongside them who are paying the ultimate price. It is time that EU governments recognised that dams have had their day in Europe. They must now wholeheartedly commit to their obligations under the EU Water Framework Directive, take dam removal seriously, and say no to any damaging projects in the pipeline.”
“Renewable energy is the future,” added Alex Mason, Senior Energy Policy Officer at WWF’s European Policy Office. “But we need to choose renewables which are good for the climate and which can be built without damaging nature – for example solar and wind. Cost-competitive with fossil fuels and way cheaper than nuclear, there is simply no reason not to ramp up wind and solar provided they are properly planned, while investing in smart grids and storage. EU Member States must put their money on the right renewable energy horse when they finalise their climate plans this year.”