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New World Bank President Nominee, Ajay Banga, Should Turn The Current Against Hydropower

“You’re actually combating climate change just by keeping the rivers wild.” – Goldman Prize winner, Juan Pablo Orrego

It’s good that President Biden has nominated a new leader of the World Bank, one of the more powerful financial institutions that has the potential to help fight climate change across the world. Likewise, in order to make systemic change at a massive institution like the World Bank, new personnel is essential.

The World Bank, unfortunately, has been a large-scale funder of river-destroying hydropower projects in the past. We call on Biden, and his new nominee, Ajay Banga, to change course at the World Bank and start protecting and restoring rivers instead of damming and destroying them.

After all, rivers and their ecosystems are key carbon and biodiversity storehouses in the toolbox of nature-based solutions we need to fight climate change.

Hydropower dams almost always have huge negative impacts on rivers including:

  • Dams block rivers, and not just a river’s water but also its fish, sediment, nutrients;
  • Dams slow rivers which changes a river’s ecology, water temperature, sediment flow, and aquatic habitat;
  • Dams always make a river’s water quality different, and usually make it worse;
  • Dams can cause the extinction, and local extirpation, of fish and other forms of aquatic life. In fact, freshwater species are disappearing much faster rate than terrestrial or marine species across the planet;
  • Dams harm, and often significantly reduce, riverine and local ecosystem biodiversity;
  • Dams can make river-bank and floodplain flooding worse;
  • Dams exacerbate coastal flooding, beach erosion, and sea level rise;
  • Dams actually make climate change worse by emitting methane and other greenhouse gases as organic matter is unnaturally trapped and decays under the reservoir’s surface;
  • And the list goes on….

If Mr. Banga gets the job as President of the World Bank, he would do well to look through the ongoing programs at the Bank – right on its website – and start weeding out dams and hydropower. Specifically, the Bank has a “hydroelectric power guide for developers and investors”, and “Supports Hydropower” through engagement, as well as proposes to use hydropower to “Build Back Getter and Greener”, and works to “overcome challenges in hydropower financing”.

All of these programs, and many more, are killing rivers across the planet and make climate change worse, which is the exact opposite direction the World Bank should be going.

Fortunately, Civil Society organizations that oppose dams and hydropower are gaining steam and ramping up the pressure against the Bank’s programs. The last few COPs have seen a significant increase in the presence of groups and people rallying against hydropower. Further, the increased focus on how dams and hydropower create methane emissions making climate change worse has started to grain traction in the U.S. and elsewhere. In fact, the U.N. IPCC guidelines now recommend that each country report the GHG emissions from dams and hydropower in yearly Inventories.

Stated directly, hydropower is not “clean”, is not “zero carbon”, and is not “emissions free”, and the World Bank should stop funding hydropower as the Bank increases its focus on fighting climate change.

My Banga’s home country of India is a big supporter of hydropower, not only in India, but also through funding and construction in neighboring China, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, and so Banga will need to fight that inertia as he turns the current against hydropower at the World Bank.

Mr. Banga, we speak directly to you – to fight climate change, you need to keep rivers wild.

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Gary Wockner, PhD, is a global river protection advocate based in Colorado. Contact: Gary@SaveTheColorado.org

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