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There is no green hydropower: European NGOs call for end to construction

November 5, 2020
Nant y Moch hydroelectic dam, Wales. Image: Statkraft | Flickr Creative Commons

A group of 150 European environmental organisations have released a manifesto calling for EU institutions to stop supporting the construction of new hydropower plants. The coalition of NGOs released the document following the recent World Fish Migration Day, which highlighted the significant barriers – particularly from hydropower constructions – faced by migratory species in European and global rivers.

The coalition, which includes the WWF, BirdLife and Climate Action Network Europe, state that new hydropower plants make only a small contribution towards green energy transition compared to the significant environmental impacts they have on river ecosystems. As such, in the context of ongoing freshwater biodiversity loss, they argue that the construction of new hydropower schemes contradicts the biodiversity goals of the European Green Deal policy. Put bluntly, they state, “There is no green hydropower.”

There are over 21,000 existing hydropower plants in Europe, with around another 8,700 additional plants planned or under construction. The manifesto calls for an end to EU subsidies and European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development financing for all new hydropower plants. It states that public finance for new hydropower plants should be reallocated to ecological restoration, dam removal projects and towards less ecologically harmful renewable energies such as wind and solar power.

“The European Commission and the European financial institutions’ continued financing of new hydropower projects completely contradicts the ambitions of the EU Biodiversity Strategy and its goal of restoring 25,000km of free-flowing rivers,” said Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at the WWF European Policy Office. “Removing financing tools and incentives to new hydropower projects is an increasingly urgent step towards reversing biodiversity loss in the EU, meeting the targets set by the Water Framework Directive, and supporting the European Green Deal.”

Responding to the manifesto, a spokesperson from the International Hydropower Association said, “Climate change is widely recognized as one of, if not the most, significant threat to biodiversity. Hydropower is by far the largest source of renewable electricity globally and will play a crucial role if we are to meet the Paris Agreement target of keeping the global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees C. An outright moratorium on hydropower  in Europe  would be inappropriate and stop many important projects going ahead, which are urgently required to ensure  the success of the clean energy transition.”

It is undeniable that hydropower is a valuable source of renewable energy in Europe. The big issue is the negative impacts hydropower constructions have on river ecosystems. Large hydropower plants can completely transform the course and character of a river, significantly altering flows of water, nutrients, sediments and migratory species along its length. Even small and ‘run-of-the-river’ plants can cause significant habitat alterations and act as barriers to migratory species.

“We urgently need to move to a 100% renewable energy system,” stated Alex Mason, Senior Policy Officer, Climate & Energy, WWF European Policy Office. “But the contribution new hydropower could make is trivial compared to the massive ecological damage it would cause. We should be investing in wind and solar instead, combined with demand flexibility and storage.” 


Read No More Hydropower in Europe: A Manifesto

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