Hurricane Katrina, Category 5 Storm, Aug. 28, 2005

Wrong Climate for Damming Rivers

Hundreds of large dams are proposed in areas where climate change could bring great hydrological uncertainty, including the Amazon, the Mekong, Africa, China, and the Himalayas. While there is uncertainty in hydrological forecasts, one thing is clear: it's the wrong climate for damming rivers. First, big dams are at huge risk from climate change's impacts on river flows. Equally important, healthy rivers are also key to successful climate adaptation, especially for the world's poorest, who are also at greatest risk of climate change. Finally, large reservoirs can be significant sources of greenhouse gases. International Rivers is working to raise capacity on this critical issue globally and in dam-building regions, and promoting an energy revolution that allows us to dramatically cut our use of fossil fuels, while also preserving life-giving water resources.

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Raising Awareness with a global information campaign

International Rivers is working to create awareness about these issues, through a Google Earth 3D tour and video that  narrated by Nigerian activist Nnimmo Bassey, winner of the prestigious Right Livelihood Award and chair of Friends of the Earth International. The production was launched at the COP 17 climate meeting in Durban, South Africa in November 2011. The video and tour allow viewers to explore why dams are the wrong answer to climate change, by learning about topics such as reservoir emissions, dam safety, and adaptation while visiting real case studies in Africa, the Himalayas and the Amazon.

Watch the video to protect rivers from climate change and dams:

This Google Earth production illustrates three key reasons that large dams are the wrong response to climate change:

  • River flows are increasingly unpredictable. Large dams have always been based on the assumption that future stream-flow patterns will mirror those of the past, but this is no longer true. Climate change has begun to significantly and unpredictably change precipitation patterns. More frequent droughts will make many hydropower projects uneconomic. More extreme rainfall will increase the risk of dam failures and catastrophic flood releases.
  • Healthy rivers are critical for supporting life on Earth. Big dams make it harder for people and ecosystems downstream of dams to adapt to climate change by reducing water quality and quantity, drying up forests and wetlands, flooding productive land, and destroying fisheries.
  • Dam reservoirs emit greenhouse gases, especially in the tropics. Dam reservoirs are a globally significant source of one of the most potent gases, methane. Meanwhile, free-flowing rivers play a crucial role in helping trap carbon.

We encourage you to download the video and related fact sheet and use it in your own efforts to raise awareness about rivers and climate change. The Google Earth video has captions in Portuguese, German, French, Italian, Hindi, Chinese, Turkish, Spanish, and more languages on the YouTube page. The fact sheet has been translated into Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, German, Hindi and Bangla.

Follow this page for updates on our research efforts on climate change and rivers around the world.