No future hydro development in World Heritage sites commits IHA, as new duty of care for protected areas announced

6 September 2021

Progressive and stringent safeguards for hydropower development in Protected Area has been announced today by the International Hydropower Association (IHA), accompanied with an historic no-go commitment on any future development in UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites.

The new IHA commitments, which were announced today at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in Marseille by IHA Chief Executive Eddie Rich, follow a process of dialogue and engagement with the association’s membership – who collectively manage around a third (450GW) of worldwide installed hydropower capacity – together with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the IUCN among other stakeholders.

“Hydropower can bring huge benefits as a low-carbon source of electricity, providing clean storage for solar and wind power and helping to protect energy systems against blackouts. Billions of tonnes of carbon emissions are avoided every year by using hydropower instead of fossil fuels. As with any infrastructure project, however, even the construction of a renewable energy project may bring impacts to the local environment that must be mitigated,” said Rich. “We believe that renewable energy projects in Protected Areas should meet the highest performance standards and clearly demonstrate how they offer net-benefits to the wider environment. World Heritage Sites have been inscribed on the World Heritage List and so require additional protections such as this no-go policy for hydropower to protect them for future generations.”

Under the duty of care commitment for Protected Areas, IHA’s members must implement high standards of performance and transparency when affecting protected areas, as well as candidate protected areas and corridors between protected areas. This should be demonstrated through a systematic application of the Hydropower Sustainability Tools or certification against the forthcoming Hydropower Sustainability Standard, to be launched on 8 September 2021.

“The new IHA commitment is a major step forward by the hydropower industry in ensuring that hydropower projects do not affect World Heritage sites,” commented Mechtild Rössler, Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. “The new commitment is in line with the established position of the World Heritage Committee, that the construction of dams with large reservoirs within the boundaries of properties is incompatible with their World Heritage status. 

“We also look forward to continue our dialogue with IHA in order to ensure that through the implementation of the duty of care commitment, impacts of hydropower projects outside World Heritage sites but situated within the watershed can also be avoided.”

Dr James Dalton, Director of the IUCN Global Water Programme, added: “Protected Areas are a part of the solution to address the unprecedented environmental crisis humanity is facing – all actors of society, including the hydropower industry, share the responsibility to protect this natural heritage for future generations. 

“IHA’s commitment to respecting World Heritage Sites as no-go areas for hydropower projects is an important step toward improving the sector’s sustainability performance, and IUCN stands ready to help IHA and its members extend this commitment to all categories of protected areas.”

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