Wednesday, May 8, 2013

World Bank turns to hydropower to square development with climate change

Apologies for cross-posting

World Bank turns to hydropower to square development with climate change
Howard Schneider
The Washington Post, May 8, 2013

The World Bank is making a major push to develop large-scale hydropower
projects around the globe, something it had all but abandoned a decade
ago but now sees as crucial to resolving the tension between economic
development and the drive to tame carbon use.

Major hydropower projects in the Congo, Zambia, Nepal and elsewhere —
all of a scale dubbed "transformational" to the regions involved — are
part of the bank's fundraising drive among wealthy nations. Bank lending
for hydropower has scaled up steadily in recent years, and officials
expect the trend to continue amid a worldwide boom in water-fueled

Such projects were shunned in the 1990s, in part because they can be so
disruptive to communities and ecosystems. But the bank is opening the
taps for dams, transmission lines and related infrastructure as
President Jim Yong Kim tries to resolve a dilemma he has placed at the
core of bank strategy: how to eliminate poverty while adding as little
as possible to carbon emissions.

"Large hydro is a very big part of the solution for Africa and South
Asia and Southeast Asia. . . . I fundamentally believe we have to be
involved," said Rachel Kyte, the bank's vice president for sustainable
development and an influential voice among Kim's top staff members. The
earlier move out of hydro "was the wrong message. . . . That was then.
This is now. We are back."

It's a controversial stand. The bank backed out of large-scale
hydropower because of the steep trade-offs involved. Big dams produce
lots of cheap, clean electricity, but they often uproot villages in
dam-flooded areas and destroy the livelihoods of the people the
institution is supposed to help. A 2009 World Bank review of hydropower
noted the "overwhelming environmental and social risks" that had to be
addressed, but also concluded that Africa and Asia's vast and largely
undeveloped hydropower potential was key to providing dependable
electricity to the hundreds of millions of people who remain without it.

"What's the one issue that's holding back development in the poorest
countries? It's energy. There's just no question," Kim said in an interview.

Advocacy groups remain skeptical, arguing that large projects, such as
the Congo's long-debated network of dams around Inga Falls, may be of
more benefit to mining companies or industries in neighboring countries
than poor communities struggling to recover from the country's civil war.

"It is the old idea of a silver bullet that can modernize whole
economies," said Peter Bosshard, policy director of International
Rivers, a group that has organized opposition to the bank's evolving
hydro policy and argued for smaller projects designed around communities
rather than mega-dams meant to export power throughout a region.

"Turning back to hydro is being anything but a progressive climate
bank," said Justin Guay, a Sierra Club spokesman on climate and energy
issues. "There needs to be a clear shift from large, centralized projects."

The major nations that support the World Bank, however, have been
pushing it to identify such projects — complex undertakings that might
happen only if an international organization is involved in sorting out
the financing, overseeing the performance and navigating the politics.


Kate Ross
Program Associate and Patagonia Coordinator
International Rivers
510-848-1155 ext. 311

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