A bold new blueprint for sustainable hydropower is set to be launched today at the 2021 World Hydropower Congress with the support of governments, NGOs and international agencies.

The San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower puts forward a new set of fundamental principles and recommendations to drive forward hydropower’s contribution to global climate goals. It urges greater green investment in responsible hydropower development and places enhanced ESG performance expectations on the sector.

At today’s closing ceremony of the World Hydropower Congress, the declaration will be handed over to COP26 President Alok Sharma to deliver to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November. Sharma commented: “This Declaration is a first vital step in increasing the global deployment of hydropower, with solid principles to guide the developments of projects, and sound recommendations for governments and policy-makers developed in consultation with businesses, financial institutions and civil society. And this exemplifies the collaborative approach we need to make the clean energy transition a reality.” 

Named in honour of the Government of Costa Rica, the official host of the World Hydropower Congress, the San José Declaration states that “Sustainable hydropower is a clean, green, modern and affordable solution to climate change”.

At the heart of the Declaration, which is issued by the International Hydropower Association (IHA) as the Secretariat to the World Hydropower Congress, is a commitment to international good practice, emphasised by its central statement that “going forward, the only acceptable hydropower is sustainable hydropower”.

“The San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower is going to provide the blueprint for the new generation of hydropower, the construction and delivery of which is so critical if we are going to achieve the cut in emissions that we need,” commented Malcolm Turnbull, 29th Prime Minister of Australia.

The Congress also saw the launch of the Hydropower Sustainability Standard, a new ESG certification scheme that is the first of its kind in the renewables sector. The Standard underpins the San José Declaration by providing a basis for defining international good practices in hydropower sustainability.

The San José Declaration includes an unprecedented statement by the global hydropower community that new projects should not be developed in UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It also takes new steps in committing to a duty of care in the development of hydropower projects that affect legally designated protected areas.

This historic move was advanced by the International Hydropower Association (IHA), representing around 100 developers, operators and manufacturers that between them account for around a third of the world’s installed hydropower capacity.

Other key factors addressed in the Declaration include how sustainable hydropower is a proven technology to strengthen wind and solar, how solar PV and wind can be integrated in hybrid projects, and how it can produce green hydrogen. It also proposes a “use it or lose it” stance, stressing that all dams should be beneficial. This is accompanied by a call for dams to be reviewed for decommissioning in cases where they no longer provide benefits to society, or have irreconcilable safety issues or adverse environmental impacts.

The San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower was shaped by a wide-ranging public consultation that took place over several months, culminating in the gathering of global decision-makers at the World Hydropower Congress. Hundreds of organisations and individuals participated in the process by attending online events facilitated by IHA and submitting feedback on draft versions of the Declaration. Input was received from representatives of governments, NGOs, international financial institutions, academic and research institutions, and civil society organisations.