In Peru, Activists Say Big Dams Are Not Clean Energy

Japan has been one of the most generous donors to developing countries through climate finance, but last week word got out that some of that has gone to building coal plants in Indonesia, India and Vietnam. 

Japan claims the new coal plants are more efficient than old ones, so that’s better for the climate.

What this points out is the complete lack of rules or oversight for which projects qualify under Climate Finance – funds that developing countries are fighting so hard for to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Big hydro is another sticking point, increasingly called "clean" energy, and in Peru, 200 nonprofits came together to say it should not be allowed under the Green Climate Fund.

In a letter mostly signed by nonprofits in Central and Latin America, they emphatically say, "Large dams are not clean energy." They want only energy efficiency and decentralized renewables to be allowed from these funds. 

Hydro Damocracy

Here is their letter, with the title:

LARGE DAMS ARE NOT CLEAN OR SUSTAINABLE ENERGY SOURCES

Governments, International Organizations and Financial Institutions Must Implement Real Solutions to Climate Change

According to the World Commission on Dams, 50,000 large dams had been built by the year 2000, disrupting more than 60% of Earth’s rivers. In Latin America alone, 973 hydroelectric dams are operating, and roughly 1,600 more are in planning or construction phases; as many as 254 of these are expected to be built in the Amazon Basin.

One of the major arguments for the current, unprecedented boom of dam construction around the world is that large hydro projects provide a "clean energy" solution to the climate crisis.

On the contrary, scientific evidence reveals that large dams:

1. Emit greenhouse gases, including methane, especially in tropical regions;

2. Demonstrate high vulnerability to extreme droughts and flooding that are increasingly common in a changing climate;

3. Cause severe and irreparable environmental damage, especially to freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity, with consequences for vital ecosystem services at the local, regional and global levels, including regulation of the climate system;

4. Frequently involve human rights violations, such as lack of free, prior and informed consultation and consent with indigenous peoples and other traditional communities, loss of territories and livelihoods (with especially negative impacts on women, children, elderly citizens and others in vulnerable situations) as well as exploitative labor conditions among dam construction workers;

5. Incur cost overruns that average twice the initial budgets, causing major economic difficulties in developing countries, including diversion of scarce funds from investments that could be made in truly sustainable energy sources;

6. Take a long time to become operational, including frequent schedule overruns, making them an inefficient solution to the urgent energy and climate crises that they are intended to tackle;

7. Cause significant social, environmental and economic losses rarely considered in the projects’ official budgets, impoverishing local communities and gravely conflicting with their primary advertised objectives of poverty alleviation and energy for the poor.

Nevertheless, hydroelectric dams continue to be promoted as clean and sustainable energy sources to meet increasing energy demand.

Today there are cleaner, more efficient, less costly and faster alternatives to respond simultaneously to legitimate energy needs and the climate crisis. Therefore we DEMAND that governments, international organizations and financial institutions immediately:

1. Stop considering large dams as clean energy sources, given the proved negative impacts mentioned above.

2. Implement sustainable energy solutions that prioritize incentives for energy efficiency and decentralized renewables such as solar, wind, biomass and geothermal;

3. Avoid incentives for large dams from international institutions and from UNFCCC mechanisms, such as the Clean Development Mechanism or the Green Climate Fund;

4. Incorporate in the planning and licensing of new proposed hydroelectric projects:

a. evaluation of the potential for greenhouse gas emissions, including methane produced by reservoirs;

b. rigorous analysis of vulnerability to severe droughts and flooding, given scenarios of climate change;

c. lessons learned regarding the true economic costs and schedule overruns of large dams;

d. comprehensive evaluation of social and environmental impacts and risks;, including cumulative impacts of dam cascades and related infrastructure projects, making use of planning instruments such as Strategic Environmental Assessments at the basin level;

e. full respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and other local communities, including territorial rights and the right to free, prior and informed consultation and consent;

5. Adopt inclusive and transparent decision-making processes, taking into account the whole spectrum of energy alternatives, identifying options that are best suited to meet the needs of societies and communities, while avoiding harmful and unnecessary projects.

Read our articles, Mega-Dams Don’t Even Make Economic Sense, Say Researchers and World is on Massive Hydroelectric Building Spree.

Here’s the letter and signatories:

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