Yesterday’s Technologies a Bad Match for Tomorrow’s Problems

International Rivers
Friday, March 25, 2011

World Bank Energy Strategy: Yesterday’s Technologies a Bad Match for Tomorrow’s Problems

Berkeley, California - In a time of climate change, decentralized, adaptable and diversified water and energy projects are best suited to respond to increasingly variable and unpredictable weather patterns. Large dams risk becoming uneconomic due to droughts, and unsafe due to more extreme storms. They will also further degrade freshwater ecosystems which are already reeling under the impacts of climate change. In spite of this, the World Bank’s new Energy Strategy calls for increased funding for large dams. According to International Rivers, a strategy that is based on yesterday’s technologies cannot resolve tomorrow’s problems.

Titled, Energizing Sustainable Development, the new Energy Strategy was prepared by the World Bank’s management and will be discussed by a committee of the Bank’s board of directors on April 11. The strategy, which was leaked to the public today, calls for “increasing engagement in hydropower.” It proposes a new focus on large, regional projects particularly in Africa that “can take advantage of economies of scale.” The document states that “the energy sector will seek to increase the average size of its projects to reinforce [World Bank Group] operational efficiency.”

In a critique of the Energy Strategy, Zachary Hurwitz, policy coordinator of International Rivers, states: “Climate change is reducing streamflow in rivers around the world, while increasing storms and siltation due to extreme weather events. These trends make dams a risky and inappropriate solution for the problems of climate change. The World Bank should stay ahead of the curve and support market-ready renewable technologies, such as wind and non-dam kinetic hydropower projects, rather than the large dams of the past.”

Sena Alouka, Director of Jeunes Volontaires pour L’Environnement in Togo, comments: “It’s clear that in the current situation of economic crisis and climate uncertainty, pushing for hydropower can be disastrous for Africa, and can lure the continent in a no-return, debt-prone and miserable situation. Africa has abundant alternatives, and needs to thoroughly assess all options. Africa needs to think small, think close, and think durable!”

Peter Bosshard, policy director of International Rivers, adds: “Decentralized renewable energy projects such as wind, solar and small hydro projects are best suited to expand access to electricity, reduce poverty and strengthen resilience to climate change at the same time. They could also avoid the serious environmental impacts of large dams. The World Bank should support such a win-win approach rather than to promote outdated large dams, which primarily serve the interests of the Bank and the hydropower lobby in big, expensive, centralized projects.”

International Rivers is an environmental and human rights organization with staff in four continents. For over two decades, International Rivers has been at the heart of the global struggle to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them.

Media contacts: 
  • For questions on hydropower: Zachary Hurwitz, International Rivers, 510 848 1155,
  • For questions on fossil fuels:
    • Steve Kretzmann, Oil Change International, 202 497 1033
    • John Coequyt, Sierra Club, 202 669 7060
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