No Need to Cut the Planet's Arteries to Save Her Lungs

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International Rivers welcomes today’s U.S.-China Joint Presidential Statement on Climate Change. We salute the increased focus on phasing out fossil fuels and strengthening climate resilience, and the inclusion of a South-South climate cooperation fund.

Currently China’s clean power plan and its export of energy technologies are overly reliant on unsustainable large hydropower projects. China plans to build more hydropower capacity on its rivers in a decade than any other countries have built in their entire history, and is the world’s largest dam builder overseas.

Peter Bosshard, Interim Executive Director of International Rivers, says: “Including large hydropower in the implementation of the US-Chinese statement would be misguided and counter-productive. Trying to dam our way out of climate change would mean to cut the planet’s arteries in order to save her lungs.”

The US and China should not promote large hydropower projects under their new agreement for the following reasons:

  • Tropical reservoirs emit large amounts of methane, a highly aggressive greenhouse gas. A peer-reviewed article has estimated that reservoir emissions account for 4% of all human-made climate change – about the same contribution as the aviation sector.
  • Bulky large hydropower dams are ill-matched to a future in which the time and location of precipitation becomes ever less predictable. Large dams weaken climate resilience, particularly of countries that are already highly hydro-dependent.
  • Climate finance for long-established technologies such as hydropower crowds out support for the cutting-edge solutions of the future.
  • Given the rapidly growing potential of smart grids and affordable battery storage, hydropower will no longer be needed to balance variable solar and wind power by the time new dams come online.
  • Dams and pollution have decimated rivers and lakes: Freshwater ecosystems have lost more species than any other major ecosystem. Given the added pressure of climate change on freshwater species, more large dams would lead to the collapse of many critically important ecosystems.

You will find more information about this topic here.

Peter Bosshard is the Interim Executive Director of International Rivers and tweets @Peter Bosshard.