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Groups Protest UN Climate Funds for Big Dams

Nine environmental groups are challenging the use of money earmarked by the United Nations for “innovative and transformational” climate adaptation projects to build or refit large hydroelectric dams associated with severe damage to ecosystems and Indigenous communities, as well as elevated greenhouse gas emissions.

Signatories include Friends of the Earth, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Foundation, and the Centre for International Environmental Law, The Guardian reports. The groups particularly object to plans to spend more than US$136 million from the UN’s Green Climate Fund on big dams in Nepal, Tajikistan, and the Solomon Islands.  

The GCF, The Guardian recalls, was set up “to mobilize US$100 billion a year by 2020 for poor countries looking for innovative and transformational projects. These were supposed to promote ‘paradigm shifts’ to clean and climate-resilient energy, in the context of the UN’s sustainable development goals.”

Against that standard, “to use the Fund to build mega-dams ignores the risk they pose to ecology as well as climate,” the groups argue.

“Large dams are not suited to adapt to climate risks because they alter seasonal patterns, by storing floods and increasing dry period flows,” said Andrea Rodriguez, a senior attorney for the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defence. “Large infrastructure does not guarantee development or climate solutions.”

Many international agencies categorize hydropower as a clean renewable energy source because it emits no CO2 from water running through turbines to generate electricity. “But critics say this fails to take into account up to a billion tonnes of greenhouse gases created by dams each year,” The Guardian notes, “as well as the damage often inflicted on carbon sinks, and hydropower’s vulnerability to shifts in climate.” The dams in both Tajikistan and Nepal, for example, depend on water from dwindling mountain glaciers.