Protecting Rivers

Hydropower Manifesto

NGOs call on the EU to end support for new hydropower

Following World Fish Migration Day, 150 NGOs have banded together to call on the EU institutions to end public financing for new hydropower projects in Europe. Building more hydropower flies in the face of the European Green Deal’s biodiversity goals, given the small contribution new plants would bring to the energy transition weighted against the environmental damage they cause [1]. WWF, along with signatories such as Climate Action Network Europe and BirdLife ask for public investments to be redirected towards upgrades of existing plants, energy efficiency measures, and lower impact renewable energy alternatives like wind and solar power.  

The mobilisation by NGOs comes a few months after new analysis found that 93% of European freshwater migratory fish had been lost since 1970, partly due to hydropower [2]. While 91% of existing and planned plants in Europe are considered ‘small’ – meaning they have, a capacity below 10MW – and contribute little to the energy mix, their environmental impacts are dramatic.  If these plants go ahead, they will destroy Europe’s last free-flowing rivers and further degrade increasingly vulnerable freshwater ecosystems.

Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources, European Policy Office said: “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. 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.”

Alex Mason, Senior Policy Officer, Climate & Energy added : “We urgently need to move to a 100% renewable energy system. 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.” 

The manifesto calls for:

  • An end to EU subsidising new hydropower plants of all sizes, including via regional policy and Projects of Common Interest funds.
  • An end to European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development financing for all new hydropower plants in Europe.
  • All new hydropower to be excluded from the list of renewable energies eligible for State Aid.
  • Public finance for new hydropower plants to be reallocated to ecological refurbishments, dam removal projects especially where the dams are now obsolete, and towards other renewable energies like wind and solar power.

    See here for the full manifesto and list of signatories 

[1] If all the 5,500+ planned hydropower plants in the EU were built, the share of the EU electricity generation provided by hydropower would go from 10% to 11.2-13.9%. Eurostat, 2017; EuroNatur, GEOTA, RiverWatch, WWF, Hydropower pressure on European rivers: The story in numbers, 2019.

[2] IUCN, WFMF, WWF, TNC, ZSL, The Living Planet Index (LPI) for migratory freshwater fish, 2020

[3] Mapping a faster route to zero emissions Europe

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Yale: A Balkan Dam Boom Imperils Europe’s Wildest Rivers

The Article of the online magazine Yale Environment 360 “A Balkan Dam Boom Imperils Europe’s Wildest Rivers” by Paul Hockenus is about the impact of the planned hydropower plants in the Balkan peninsula for the environment and the local residents. Nearly 2700 dam projects are planned or under construction from Slovenia to Greece according to a study by RiverWatch and EuroNature. A detailed assessment of 22000 miles of Balkan rivers commissioned by WWF and other conservation groups has classified 30 % of the region’s rivers as pristine or “near-natural” and another 50 % as in good condition. That is a sharp contrast to the situation in Western Europe, where most rivers have been dammed or subjected to intensive development. Scientists and conservationists say that if the proposed scale of Balkan dam building proceeds, thousands of miles of waterways, home to scores of endemic or endangered species, will be irreversibly degraded and polluted. The Balkan rivers are home to 69 endangered species and contain more than 40 % of all the endangered freshwater mollusk species in Europe. In addition to the environmental impacts there are a lot of villages which will be flooded so the locals have to to move.

The European Union, which had originally supported hydropower projects in the name of zero-carbon energy, is now urging governments in southeastern Europe to back out of them.

To read the full article click here.

A Balkan Dam boom imperils europes wildest rivers

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More Dams in Europe threat to future of wild fish

The Article of Metamag “More Dams in Europe threat to future of wild fish” written by Emily Macintosh is about the impact which the planned hydropower plants across Europe have on the size of fish populations. Around 2700 dams are planned to be built between Slovenia and Greece. Free flowing rivers in the Balkans are particularly under threat, such as the Vjosa in Albania, the largest and last untamed river in Europe. A new report published from researchers at the University of Graz in Austria showed that nearly one in 10 of Europe’s fish species could face extinction as a result of expanding hydropower in the western Balkans. According to Sergiy Moroz (Senior Policy Officer for Water and Biodiversity at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB)) fragmenting rivers with dams, barrages and other infrastructure is a key reason for the significant losses of fish and other freshwater species across Europe, as well as for the terrible state of many of our water bodies.

Since 2005, a BankWatch study estimates that 727 million Euros of loans for Balkan dams and diversions have been provided by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the World Bank Group. This includes 37 projects in protected areas like national parks and Natura 2000 sites, or internationally recognised areas of high biodiversity value such as Important Bird Areas. The ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’ is calling on international banks to stop supporting hydropower projects in the region.

To read the full article click here.

More dams in europe threat to future of wild fish

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The Guardian on the threat caused to European fish species by dams

The Article “Balkan dam projects could result in loss of one in 10 European fish species” by the Guardian is about the impact that the planned hydropower plants have for the biodiversity of the Balkan fish species. Nearly one in 10 of Europe’s fish species will be endangered to extinct by a constellation of hydropower plants planned in the western Balkans. A new report of the University of Graz emphasizes that 49 of Europe’s 531 freshwater species would face either extinction or the loss of 50-100% of their Balkan distribution. According to RiverWatch, the conservation group, which co-commissioned the research that 2800 hydropower plants are planned or already under construction in the region, more than a third of them on Natura 2000 sites.

To read the full article you can click here.

Balkan dam projects could result in loss of one in 10 European fish species

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