Managing Climate And Social Risks Key To Hydropower Development


The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region has nearly 500 GW hydropower potential, but only a fraction of it has been developed. As countries in the region gear up for increased hydropower production to alleviate energy poverty, they find themselves grappling with increasing climatic and social risks. A seminar convened by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), FutureWater, and Statkraft which started on  1 September 2016 at Stockholm World Water Week discussed these risks and the way forward.

“There is a need to manage risks so that the mountains and the plains derive sustainable benefits from the region’s rich hydropower potential”, said David Molden, ICIMOD, stressing the importance of the HKH as a global asset.

The hydropower sector is facing major challenges as a result of climate change-induced glacier melt. Glaciers across the region are retreating, leading to changes in future hydrological regimes. At the same time, the risk of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) and landslides is increasing, putting both existing and planned hydropower plants at risk.

“Changes in hydrological regimes means that there will be more water in the near future as glaciers melt, but it will decline after 2100”, said Arthur Lutz from FutureWater, a water management research organization.

Martin Honsberg, from the hydropower company Statkraft, added, “The only feasible way to manage this risk is to be better informed about the impacts of climate change on glaciers and river regimes, which can be done by setting up long-term monitoring systems.”

ICIMOD and FutureWater are studying glaciers across the HKH to understand the impacts of climate change in the mountains and the possible downstream consequences. The results of these studies were presented during the seminar.

The societal risks of alienating local people in areas where hydropower projects are constructed are nearly as important to consider as climate risk. These projects are mostly in mountain areas, and local people often perceive that the benefits accrue to people in the plains who get electricity, while people in the mountains bear the environmental and social costs. To manage this risk, hydropower companies need to provide direct and tangible benefits to local communities.

Aditi Mukherji, ICIMOD, discussed successful benefit sharing mechanisms in Nepal and India, concluding that good and responsible governance at the local level is needed to ensure that local communities derive commensurate benefits from hydropower projects.

At World Water Week this year, ICIMOD convened various seminars and hosted a booth to draw attention to a range of water-related issues and their impact on the ecosystems and people of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.