An extraordinary challenge22 February 2019
IWP&DC spoke with Richard Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of the International Hydropower Association about key lessons he has learned throughout his career
From a personal and professional point of view, what have been the key lessons you have learned during your time as Chief Executive Officer of IHA?
It’s been a tremendous journey which has involved learning and understanding the sector’s challenges and building an organisation which has grown dramatically since the turn of the century. IHA was established in 1995 under the auspices of UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme and my role has evolved substantially during the last 23 years. For most of my time at IHA I’ve been the executive director of this mutual association of members and, since 2015, I’ve also been chief executive officer of its not-for-profit companies, IHA Ltd and IHA Sustainability Ltd, which carry out the association’s work.
How difficult was it to help establish such a large industry organisation? If you knew then what you know now, would you do things any differently?
Establishing an international organisation which is truly representative of the global hydropower sector has been a challenge. IHA started with a core group of organisations with shared interests and concerns about the future of hydropower. Without those forward-thinking and brave individuals and organisations, the association wouldn’t have been established. If I knew then what I know now, I would have started collecting air miles a bit sooner! But would I do anything differently? No. Our goal from the outset was to build and share knowledge and that remains our mission today.
Has IHA developed at the rate you had dared hoped for from the outset?
The growth and development of IHA has been quite extraordinary, especially in relation to the number of members and partners we have today. This is perhaps, for me, the most important element of our success: working with so many organisations, including governments, NGOs and financial and academic institutions, which have specialties to bring to, and influence on, the hydropower sector. It has kept us very well informed of international and national priorities and perspectives.
How vital do you think it is that organisations such as IHA encourage the hydropower and dams industry to learn from past experiences, and move forwards positively?
This is right at the core of IHA. In this century we shouldn’t be seeing incidents like those we’ve seen recently. New players and development mechanisms are rapidly evolving in the hydropower sector, but some aren’t being built around longstanding good practices. We want to ensure that experiences, both positive and negative, are shared and evaluated, looking at what constitutes good practice, what the challenges are, and how they can be avoided or mitigated and managed appropriately. To do this, we need to embrace all actors within the sector.
How can IHA help ensure that such lessons are learned? What skills or communication techniques can you utilise to help you?
It’s important for us to be working with those trying to analyse and understand problems and incidents, as well as identifying solutions with our members and partners. This allows us to continuously improve our definitions of good practice. This is how we approach the topics in our sustainability work programme, and we continue to refine and reinforce good practices through ongoing experience. To ensure that good practice is shared, we need to be accessible to everyone with a stake or interest in the sector.
Since the turn of this century, what do you think has been one of the most important lessons that the industry has learned?
The original thinking around hydropower was to utilise a renewable resource to ensure that electricity was delivered to communities, often for the first time. Subsequently, it has been seen as a fundamental driver of economic and social development by providing reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity. However, expectations have now significantly changed and we need to think about how hydropower can help the planet to reduce pollution, manage water and respond to climate change. Recognising this, IHA is striving to understand and optimise hydropower’s role in clean energy systems, responsible freshwater management and effective climate change solutions. In addition, the expectation on ensuring that there’s a ‘social licence’ for hydropower development is having a major influence on how hydropower is developed. Expertise is emerging here, but there’s still progress to be made in achieving good practice with regards to social development and project development.
Looking to the future, what else do you think the industry still needs to learn?
We’ve greatly expanded the ways to define, measure and report on the performance of hydropower projects, however I think the industry still needs to enhance its understanding on closing gaps against good practice. To achieve this, we have to look at all aspects of sustainability, including the social, environmental, economic and technical elements, and ensure that we define good practice for each of these. Going forward, I see IHA as having an ever-increasing role to build awareness and knowledge within organisations so they can minimise gaps against good practice.
IHA’s sustainability work programme supports three essential tools which promote and guide hydropower’s sustainability performance and contribution to sustainable development. New Guidelines on Good International Industry Practice (GIIP) for the hydropower sector provide definitions of good practice around a comprehensive set of topics identified by the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Council, a multi-stakeholder group comprising representatives of industry, government and civil society.
Facilitating more informed decisions regarding hydropower projects, there is the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, which is used to assess and benchmark project performance across this spectrum of sustainability topics in the GIIP guidelines, measuring against good practice, and, when this is met, proven best practice.
The third component is the Environmental, Social and Governance Gap Analysis Tool (ESG Tool), launched in July this year, which is a derivative of the Protocol developed at the request of the ‘green/climate’ investment market. The tool provides a targeted way of assessing gaps against good international practice. This includes a gap management plan, which represents a roadmap for the owner to bring the project into line with the environmental, social and governance aspects of the GIIP guidelines.
Any other comments?
I’m delighted to say that the 2019 World Hydropower Congress will take place between 14 and 16 May at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, France. UNESCO provided the platform for IHA’s establishment in 1995, so it’s fitting that we’re coming back almost a quarter of a century later to host this Congress with participants from up to 100 countries, including delegates from government, finance, NGOs, academia and the hydropower industry.
The congresses are tremendously important for the sector; they help define our priorities for continuing to build and share knowledge. I strongly encourage everyone with an interest in hydropower to take the opportunity to join this conversation on the future role of the technology in clean energy systems, responsible freshwater management and climate-change solutions.