Protests Challenge Hydropower Companies at Global Event in Paris
Civil society organizations denounce corporate attempts to label hydroelectric dams as “green energy”, citing human rights abuses and environmental damage
Paris (15.0519). A broad coalition of environmental and human rights organizations held a peaceful protest against destructive hydroelectric dam projects at the opening of the World Hydropower Congress in Paris. Following the protest, a delegation of Munduruku indigenous leaders from the Brazilian Amazon attempted to hand deliver a letter to the headquarters of French energy giant EDF, questioning their involvement in destructive dam projects in the Amazon; corporate representatives refused to meet with them.
This Tuesday (5/14), the biennial World Hydropower Congress, organized by the International Hydropower Association (IHA) was opened in central Paris. At the event that continues through May16th, the industry is seeking to portray hydroelectric dams as a clean source of renewable energy, essential for delivering the Paris Climate Agreement and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
However, a broad coalition of environmental and human rights NGOs, together with social movements, argue that such claims of the dam industry amount to greenwashing, aimed at capturing new sources of financing, such as the Green Climate Fund. They point to numerous cases where hydropower projects have provoked disastrous consequences for people and the environment.
Citing mounting scientific evidence that dams are an important source of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane, civil society groups also disputed the role of hydropower projects in mitigating climate change. These and other issues – including the impacts of hydroelectric dams on natural and cultural heritage sites – were debated by scientists, activists and representatives of affected communities from Brazil, Colombia, Myanmar and Turkey in a parallel event to the IHA Congress held at the Town Hall of the 6th Arrondissement of Paris on May 13th. The conference was organized by NGOs Planète Amazone, GegenStrömung/CounterCurrent, Rivers without Boundaries, International Rivers, and AIDA.
One of the speakers at the conference was Myint Zaw, activist and researcher from Myanmar, who was awarded the 2015 Goldman Prize. “The food security of millions of people is threatened by planned dam projects on the Irrawaddy River that would impact important farmlands needed for rice production along the river and in delta region“, said Zaw.
A joint statement was launched at this parallel conference, calling attention to the false promises of hydropower and urgent needs for truly sustainable energy and water solutions The declaration, signed by over 250 civil society groups from over 70 countries, is available in five languages.
During Tuesday’s opening of the World Hydropower Congress in Paris, representatives of indigenous communities, social movements and NGOs protested together with environmental activists of Extinction Rebellion in front of the Espace Grande Arche in La Defense, confronting representatives of the dam industry with the negative effects of hydropower. A focus of the protest was to call attention to a growing number of human rights and environmental activists murdered in dam-related conflicts. “Miguel Ángel Pabón Pabón, disappeared as a result of his activism against the Hidrosogamoso dam in Colombia, which has continued despite severe human rights violations“, said Juan Pablo Soler from Movimento Ríos Vívos of Colombia.
In Gabon, the Kingélé and Tchimbélé dams are adversely affecting populations living next to rivers. “During heavy rains, some villages are flooded when reservoirs overflow. Rivers turn into lakes, water becomes polluted and fish die intoxicated. There is no structure to help us on the ground, nor does the government hear our complaints, which is why we look abroad to issue a distress call“, said Assossa, Pigmy Leader from Gabon.
Three representatives of the Munduruku people in the Brazilian Amazon, Chief Arnaldo Kabá, Alessandra Korap and Candido Waro, participated in the parallel conference and the protest at the opening of the hydropower congress. Yesterday afternoon, they attempted to hand deliver a letter of protest at the corporate headquarters of EDF – Électricité de France, majority-controlled by the French government. EDF is involved in the controversial Sinop hydroproject on the Teles Pires River, a tributary of the Tapajos, and has contributed to studies to promote the São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam, that would flood Sawre Muybu, a territory of the Munduruku. EDF representatives refused to speak with the Munduruku leaders. “EDF invades our territory, destroys our rivers, our territory and sacred places, and when we come here to deliver a letter to this huge companies, we’re barred. We’re sad, but we’re determined to continue our struggle to defend our territory” said Alessandra Korap.