With the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change being described as a reality check, world leaders are being urged to face up to, and act now, on our changing climate. As part of its commitments, the hydropower industry has issued a new manifesto for change which outlines how sustainable hydropower investments can help achieve net zero emissions and limit climate change.

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that scientists are observing changes in the Earth’s climate across every region and the whole climate system. Although some of these changes are irreversible, the report states that “strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change”. However, it warns that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in emissions, limiting global warming to 1.5oC or even 2oC will be beyond reach.

With the report being described as a code red for humanity, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) says the solution lies within the decarbonisation of the global energy grid. Urgent action must be taken, and hydropower has a key role to play in the clean energy transition.

IHA Chief Executive Eddie Rich said: “There is no time to waste. Every day in the news, we can see that the world is already facing severe effects from climate change. Global energy systems must rapidly decarbonise.

“There has never been a greater consensus about the need to do something. We’re going to have a whole lot more wind and solar but unless there is something to back it up then, just as we should be accelerating, we are going to stall. There are only three options,” Rich continued, “hydro, fossil fuel or blackouts.”

In its recently released Hydropower Special Market Report, the International Energy Agency has called for an increase in hydropower to help reach net zero emissions by 2050. However, a 300GW gap in the hydropower needed to limit global warming has also been identified.

Published in September 2021, Hydropower 2050: Identifying the next 850+ GW towards 2050 is a major new report from the IHA. It assesses pathways to net zero modelled by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), against current and future planned hydropower capacity.

Both models assess that in order to keep global warming to below 2°C, around 850GW of new hydropower capacity will be required by 2050 – amounting to a gap of more than 300GW based on the current pipeline. For the more ambitious net zero target to limit temperature rise to below 1.5°C, more than 1200GW of additional hydropower capacity will be needed – leaving a gap of over 600GW.

According to the IHA, among the more than 500GW of hydropower in the development pipeline, just 156GW of this is under construction, with another 165GW approved by regulators. The rest has been announced or is pending approval. In 2020, annual growth in installed capacity was just 1.6 per cent – lower than the minimum 2 per cent growth required.

Alex Campbell, Head of Research and Policy at IHA, said: “Policy-makers need to take urgent action now to bridge this gap.”

Led by demand in China, the IHA says that the East Asia and Pacific region has 240GW of future projected capacity planned, permitted or under construction. The next few years could see sizeable growth in Africa’s hydropower capacity, with 118GW currently in the pipeline. In addition, South and Central Asia will see 91GW in additional capacity.


To help guide new hydropower development and its contribution to the clean energy transition, the IHA published the San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower in September 2021.

Described as bold new blueprint, it was launched at the 2021 World Hydropower Congress with the support of governments, NGOs and international agencies. At the heart of the declaration is a commitment to international good practice, emphasised by its central statement that “going forward, the only acceptable hydropower is sustainable hydropower”. The new set of fundamental principles and recommendations urges greater green investment in responsible hydropower development and places enhanced ESG performance expectations on the sector.

The declaration was handed over to COP26 President Alok Sharma to deliver to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November.

“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. This exemplifies the collaborative approach we need to make the clean energy transition a reality,” Sharma commented.

The San José Declaration also 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.

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.

Industry support

Jean-Bernard Lévy, Chairman and CEO of EDF, said: “At EDF we do support the San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower and we call on policy-makers to act swiftly on these recommendations, notably on promoting investment.”

Uwe Wehnhart, CEO of Voith Hydro said it is an important milestone with powerful commitments and that Voith Hydro “will follow up on and support this positive initiative” While Andritz’s CEO Wolfgang Semper urged policy makers to act on its recommendations now.

“If we don’t act now, as a society, we will miss the window of opportunity. The San José Declaration shows the way forward in making net zero by 2050 possible with clean, green, sustainable and affordable hydropower. I particularly welcome the Hydropower Sustainability Standard as a key pillar of the San José Declaration. To me,” Pascal Radue, President and CEO at GE Renewable Energy Hydro Solutions says, “this is the foundation of our credibility as an industry, as hydropower projects around the world will have to be independently rated and certified for their sustainability performance. We as GE will not participate in any project that has not been audited against these standards.”

This article first appeared in International Water Power magazine.