Civil Society Statement
December 10, 2019
On behalf of 276 civil society organizations from around the world, we are calling upon the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI) to abandon the certification of destructive hydropower projects as climate-friendly. The proposed hydropower criteria developed by CBI and its technical working group fall far short of acceptable standards and practice, and their adoption would pose a significant threat to rivers and the communities and freshwater species that depend on them.
If adopted, the CBI’s hydropower criteria would risk opening up a funding source that could prove profitable to dam operators and institutional investors with Paris-friendly branding, while making no meaningful contribution to stemming the climate crisis. Beyond permitting projects with dubious value to attract a new line of financing, the greatest risk of the proposed criteria is channeling scarce climate dollars toward projects that fail to help us confront the challenge of preventing a 2oC scenario and that exert increased pressure on freshwater biodiversity and the functioning of our water cycle.
In its eagerness to capitalize on the expanding market for climate-certified energy projects, the Climate Bonds Initiative has aligned itself with the International Hydropower Association (IHA), an industry body created to promote the interests of hydro companies and boost their image. In recent years, the IHA has rolled out a series of tools and guidance and advocated their use in lieu of established international standards and mechanisms for assessing the costs and benefits of hydropower.
The adverse environmental and social impacts of destructive hydroelectric dams are now well understood, ranging from displacing and impoverishing millions, particularly indigenous peoples, to driving the extinction of freshwater species and fragmenting rivers. Yet the CBI proposes to adopt the IHA’s own environmental, social and governance assessment tool as their principal source of assessment and verification. This would amount to little more than a box ticking exercise conducted by assessors accredited by the IHA itself – a glaring conflict of interest that lacks any meaningful oversight – making a mockery of international standards and conventions designed to protect rivers and the rights of communities. This would also be at odds with positive approaches adopted within the existing CBI standard for water infrastructure.
Besides profound damage to the hydrosphere – an important part of global climate system – hydropower reservoirs emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases, especially in the tropics. Dam reservoirs emit methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas, and are a significant contributor to the climate crisis. Yet CBI’s proposed criteria set such a low bar that even high-emitting dams would qualify for CBI certification. This problem is compounded by CBI’s proposal to use the IHA’s own non-transparent emissions calculation tool, which systematically underestimates the greenhouse gas emissions from dams. Methane emissions from dams are highest in the first years of operation, thus incentivizing hydropower would contribute to a spike in emissions at the precise moment the world is trying to reduce GHG emissions to arrest the worst impacts of climate change.
Climate financing has the potential to play a critical role in ensuring positive outcomes for rivers. This could include: protecting threatened freshwater resources; restoring flows that facilitate reconnection of fragmented ecosystems; ensuring cultural and environmental flows determined in consultation with affected peoples; and promoting river restoration efforts such as the decommissioning of obsolete dams. This is of utmost importance because our freshwater resources are vital to sustain in an era of climate change. The CBI has already issued a separate standard for water infrastructure, which took an important step to help promote nature-based solutions to addressing climate change.
CBI’s hydropower criteria, on the other hand, would represent a step backward, sanctioning business-as-usual energy practices that further threaten our rivers. If approved, it would exacerbate global threats to freshwater biodiversity, undermine the cultural values and human rights of affected communities, and fail to make progress toward addressing the climate crisis. It would at the same time damage the reputation of the Climate Bonds Initiative and contribute to discrediting green bond finance mechanisms in general. Therefore, we call upon the CBI, its board and advisory bodies to abandon their pursuit of a hydropower standard that caters to the hydropower industry instead of providing meaningful solutions to address the climate crisis.