First hydropower Standard will not stop damage to European rivers

Posted on 08 September 2021

Launched today at the World Hydropower Congress, the new hydropower Standard is a commitment from the industry to reducing its negative impacts on rivers, communities and nature.
However, the Standard will not be enough to address the devastation the sector continues to wreak on ecosystems and biodiversity in Europe, because European rivers are already saturated with hydropower. 

Only stopping new hydropower projects and their subsidies will protect Europe’s rivers and their wildlife. 

“Despite the documented damage hydropower does to nature, more and more projects are flooding in”, said Claire Baffert, senior policy officer at WWF European Policy Office. “The fact that the industry itself is trying to address the problem is proof that the existing rules aren’t working. In Europe we need to see a ban on the financing of new hydropower projects. Instead, investment in refurbishment of existing, damaging hydropower and sustainable options like wind or solar power is needed”. 

European rivers are already the most fragmented on the planet, largely due to the 21,000 hydropower plants. This has disastrous impacts on freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity, for example on salmon or eel, which need to migrate to survive. Every new hydropower facility comes with additional negative impacts on freshwater ecosystems in Europe, which can be mitigated only to a limited extent and cannot be handled anymore by nature. 

Yet despite this, hydropower is still developing in the region, with nearly 9,000 facilities in the pipeline. Most of these planned facilities have a capacity of under 10 megawatts - about the same as two large onshore wind turbines - and so would make only a negligible contribution to renewable energy generation. What’s more, one-third of these planned hydropower projects in the EU are in protected areas, such as national parks and Natura 2000 sites, which should provide safe havens for Europe’s most vulnerable biodiversity.

Sarah Azau
Communications Manager, WWF European Policy Office
+32 473 573 137
Handing over petition to stop hydropower project to government of Tyrol province Austria
© WWF-Austria