HSAF - an assessment tool for sustainability

19 June 2009



Dr Helen Locher of the IHA details the objectives of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum (HSAF) and describes its progress to date


The world is increasingly recognising the implications and imperatives of climate change. Hydro power as a low greenhouse gas generator and a strategy to address water storage and management has a valuable contribution to make in addressing global warming.

Many sectors are increasingly looking at hydro power as a preferred development option. In some regions there is considerable development potential and the pace of hydro power development is extremely rapid. At present there is insufficient guidance, control or leverage to ensure these developments are based on sustainability principles and contributing to sustainable development.

Sustainable hydro power

The challenge is to ensure sustainably developed and managed projects. There have been and continue to be many initiatives to address sustainability issues in dams and hydro power (Figure 1). The World Commission on Dams (WCD) highlighted many of the problems that can arise with dams, and initiatives such as the Sustainable Hydropower Website (www.sustainablehydropower.org) and the iea Implementing Agreement Phase 2 have identified and drawn attention to examples of hydro power projects that have successfully addressed issues and concerns.

Some of the most influential initiatives to address the sustainability of the hydro sector have been driven by the sector itself. The international-hydropower-association (iha) developed Sustainability Guidelines in 2004, and subsequently a Sustainability Assessment Protocol in 2006 as a measuring tool to assess social, environmental and economic performance against criteria described in the Guidelines.

The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum (HSAF) is not an attempt to duplicate or re-write the WCD outcomes. Unlike WCD, it is not a Commission reviewing performance of a sector. The HSAF is a cross-sector collaboration looking at an existing performance measurement tool and proposing enhancements. It draws on WCD Core Values and Strategic Priorities, along with other existing principles and policies, in its work to develop a practical assessment tool for hydro power sustainability. There is potential for WCD recommendations to be more clearly seen in this tool.

Objective of the Forum

The need for a simple measurement tool, that is practical, objective, and able to be implemented across a range of contexts has been an objective in development of the IHA Sustainability Assessment Protocol 2006 and is a key consideration in the work of the Forum.

The HSAF is a cross-sectoral partnership that aims to establish a broadly endorsed sustainability assessment tool to measure and guide performance in the hydro power sector.

The Forum’s work centers on the IHA Sustainability Guidelines and Assessment Protocol. Advantages of focusing on this work were seen to be that it builds on the WCD, the Dams and Development Project (DDP) and other principles and policies; it provides a balance across economic, social, environmental issues; it is a practical approach to measure sustainability; it is well established and has already been subject to a process of continuous improvement (six versions since 2003); and that it has the strong endorsement of the hydro power sector.

Issues with the existing Protocol are that some issues are not well covered (e.g. indigenous peoples, resettlement, environmental flows, climate change); there are areas of subjectivity; there could be stronger connection with the Guidelines; there is a lack of clarity on thresholds, and there could be improved support such as technical guidance notes.

The major opportunity presented by this effort is that the protocol could experience broad endorsement and much wider application; it could be tailored to better meet the needs of sectors beyond hydro power owners and operators, and it could harmonise with other standards.

Forum Composition

There are 14 Forum members, including representatives of developed and developing countries involved in hydro power as well as from the NGO, finance and industry sectors. A list of the members is given below:

Developing countries

• Dr Yu Xuezhong, Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research, PR China

• Mr Zhou Shichun, China Hydropower Engineering Consulting Group Co, PR China

• Mr Isreal Phiri, Manager PPI, Ministry of Energy and Water Development, Zambia

Developed countries

• Mr Geir Hermansen, Senior Advisor, Department of Energy, Norad, Norway

• Prof Gudni A Johannesson, Director General, National Energy Authority, Iceland

• Ms Kirsten Nyman, Policy Advisor for Sustainable Hydropower, GTZ, Germany (observer)

Hydro power sector

• Dr Refaat Abdel Malek, President, International Hydropower Association

• Mr Andrew Scanlon, Coordinating Author, IHA Sustainability Assessment Protocol

NGOs – Environmental Aspects

• Mr David Harrison, Senior Advisor, Global Freshwater Team, The Nature Conservancy

• Dr Joerg Hartmann, Lead, Dams Initiative, World Wildlife Fund

NGOs – Social Aspects

• Mr Michael Simon, Lead, Development Banks/NRM, Oxfam

• Dr Donal O’Leary, Water Sector Specialist, Transparency International

Finance Sector, Economic Aspects

• Ms Courtney Lowrance, Environmental Specialist, Equator Principles Financial Institutions Group

• Ms Daryl Fields, Senior Water Resources Specialist, World Bank (observer)

Forum Chair

• Mr Andre Abadie, Sustainable Finance Ltd

The Forum provides a diversity of expertise and cross-sectoral views relevant to consideration of sustainability issues for hydro power projects throughout their life cycle, but does not claim to be fully representative of all stakeholder groups. There are four NGO representatives on the Forum, representing Oxfam, The Nature Conservancy, Transparency International and WWF. The establishment of reference groups and the Forum’s consultation phases are targeted at helping inform Forum members of the diversity of viewpoints that are not directly represented on the Forum.

Forum work plan

The Forum is operating over a two year period. Following the Forum launch in March 2008 in Washington DC, Forum meetings have been held in July 2008 (USA), September 2008 (Zambia), October 2008 (China), December 2008 (Brazil), and March 2009 (Turkey). The Forum next meets in June 2009 (Iceland), with a further two meetings planned in October 2009 and February 2010 (locations to be determined).

In its work plan (Figure 2), the Forum is determining the relevant issues to be included in the assessment protocol and the measurement approach for each of these issues. The work plan involves input from experts on key hydro power sustainability themes, on-ground assessments of schemes, workshop sessions focused on the Protocol, and input from key stakeholder reference groups.

The Forum is presently in the stage of developing a full draft of the protocol by July 2009, to then be subject to a period of trialling and a second phase of consultation during August-October 2009. The intent is to have a final Protocol by early 2010.

A subsequent work phase, commencing in 2010, intends to focus on Protocol applications, potentially including pathways towards a sector standard and certification scheme.

Uses, users and maximising impact

Potential applications for the HSAF are broad in terms of who uses it and for what purpose. These include:

• All sectors providing a common basis for dialogue on sustainability issues;

• Governments, potential financiers and other decision-makers can use the Protocol to ensure that new hydro power developments are an appropriate solution for the context in which they are proposed;

• Companies, governments, financial institutions and NGOs can use the Protocol to guide development of new hydro facilities;

• Companies, governments and development agencies to assess the sustainability of existing operations and develop programs for improvement;

• NGOs and civil society to evaluate the sustainability of hydro power projects at different life cycle stages and to form a basis for dialogue and evaluation of operators and financiers hydro power initiatives;

• Developers, financial institutions and other investors in assessing the risks of potential investments and as part of due diligence;

• The hydro power sector in seeking external qualification for financing from banks, carbon credits (e.g. CDM/JI), renewable energy credits (e.g. RECs), recognition in voluntary markets (e.g. green certificates); and the administrators of these schemes in judging admission;

• Verification agencies certifying a level of sustainability;

• Hydro owners/operators for corporate sustainability management and training.

By the end of the two-year process (early 2010), the HSAF aims to have a broadly endorsed measurement tool for assessing hydro power sustainability. Once a foundation document is produced and broadly endorsed, there are many options for how it could be further developed. The HSAF has already commenced an analysis of what future pathways for the Protocol will have the most influence on lifting sustainability performance in the sector, and the requirements to develop those pathways. The opportunities and process for a follow-up to the HSAF will increasingly be a focal area as the HSAF moves into the latter part of 2009, but the HSAF is committed to get a broadly endorsed foundation document as a first step.

There is a multitude of potential pathways forward in 2010, which will be considered by a second phase of effort. These potential pathways include sector guidelines, sustainability and performance standards, awards and recognition schemes, industry benchmarking, capacity building through training programs, admission criteria for specific markets, sustainability certification schemes, informational websites, reflected in national and regional legislation and policies, and reflected in bank safeguards policies.

Progress to date

To date, the Forum has completed a phase of foundation work in Meetings 2-4, aimed at better understanding of the existing Protocol and key issues (e.g. economics and finance, technical considerations, transparency, governance, anti-corruption, environmental flows, strategic assessments, transboundary issues, resettlement, benefit sharing), and involving expert presentations and project assessments. Meeting 5 focussed on the key components of the Draft Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, and Meeting 6 reviewed feedback on these key components and made agreements on development of the Draft Protocol.

A key proposal arising from the Forum’s considerations is for a four-section Protocol as shown below:

IHA Protocol Section I – Strategic Assessment

Assesses the strategic basis for a hydro power project. This section of the Protocol can be used prior to and to inform the decision that there is a strategic basis to move forward with project preparation.

IHA Protocol Section II – Hydropower Project Preparation

Assesses the preparation stage of a hydro project during which investigations, planning and design are undertaken for all aspects of the project. This section can be used prior to and to inform the decision to move forward with project implementation.

IHA Protocol Section III – Hydropower Project Implementation

Assesses the implementation stage of a hydro power project during which construction, resettlement and other management plans and commitments are implemented. This section of the Protocol can be used to inform the timing and conditions of project commissioning

IHA Protocol Section IV – Hydropower Facility Operation

Assesses the operation of a hydro facility. This section of the Protocol can be used to inform the view that the facility is operating on a sustainable basis with active measures in place towards continuous improvement

Each section has a set of sustainability issues (aspects) which would be assessed. The number of aspects range from 5 to 33 per section, with the most being in the Project Preparation stage. These aspects encompass technical, economic, governance, environmental and social considerations, and the final lists may still undergo some refinement pending consultation feedback, further analysis and trialling. Each aspect receives a score between 1 and 5. The Protocol sets out the scoring criteria for each of the aspects, and requires review of objective evidence to support awarding of a score. The intent is to make this scoring process as objective and replicable as possible, and to test that this will be the case through the trialling of the Draft Protocol.

Obtaining feedback

Two phases of consultation are scoped into the work plan. The first consultation phase aimed at establishing relationships with stakeholders, informing them on Forum objectives, process and progress, and obtaining feedback, and was undertaken during January-February 2009. Considerable effort was put into reaching and understanding the views of civil society organisations additional to the Forum NGOs. Because of budget constraints, face-to-face opportunities were limited.

During Consultation Phase 1, several challenges in the consultation process became apparent to the Forum members based on review of the issues raised:

• Recommendations of the Forum up to this point in time were focussed on updating the structure of the existing IHA Sustainability Assessment Protocol (2006), ensuring full coverage of issues (aspects) and outlining the characteristics (attributes) of sustainability practices, and as such the Key Components Document released for comment was an interim document. Although the Forum’s objective is to produce a tool against which developers, NGOs, government and an array of users can assess the level of sustainability performance, the scoring system had not yet been drafted. The scoring system will be apparent in the Draft Protocol on which the next consultation period will focus, and the consultation Phase 2 will seek input on the scoring system and the applicability of the assessment tool.

• The Forum work plan of two years is seen by the Forum as a first phase, developing a broadly endorsed sustainability assessment tool for which there are many possible future pathways, including development of a sector standard. The Forum was seeking feedback on the assessment tool, but many comments made it clear that stakeholders want to know what happens next, what minimum requirements for acceptability would be built into a standard, and how would it be used, implemented and enforced. The Forum recognises that its work could be considered a pre-standard setting phase, but that if a future pathway is for development of a standard then the process for this would have to be defined. The Forum aims to be compliant with the ISEAL Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards as far as practicable so that this work of the Forum would provide a good foundation stage for any future standard-setting process.

The phase 1 consultation was managed by an independent consultant. All issues raised in the consultation were summarised by the consultant into a Consultation Outcomes Report, and the Forum provided responses to each of these issues. A number of actions and commitments arose as a result of the consultation issues raised. Both the Consultation Outcomes Report and the Forum responses are provided on the Forum’s website – www.hydropower.org/ sustainable_hydropower/hsaf.html .

The second consultation phase, aimed at getting detailed comments on the Draft Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, is scheduled for August-October 2009. The second consultation phase will be alongside a period of trial sustainability assessments of hydro power projects using the Draft Protocol.

The Forum commits to incorporate into the design of the Phase 2 Consultation (Aug-Oct 09) a number of regional approaches, and to make it an objective to get good insights into civil society and dam-affected peoples’ views on both the Draft Protocol and its future directions. The Forum is committed to involve civil society representatives in the trialling program for the Draft Protocol (Aug-Oct 09) as well as to look for and pursue additional opportunities to involve civil society representatives in the Forum’s forward work plan. The Forum welcomes any suggestions from civil society groups about ways to better include diverse opinions and experience of dam affected peoples and their support into the Forum process.

Considerable information on the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum is available at www.hydropower.org/sustainable_hydropower/hsaf.html or by contacting the Sustainability Forum Coordinator, Dr Helen Locher, at [email protected]


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