Success stopping CDM registration of harmful large hydro projects (Newsletter #16)

Guest article by Katy Yan, International Rivers

Many large hydro projects in the CDM are contentious because most are non-additional and cause environmental and social harm. International Rivers supports grassroots efforts to stop harmful hydro projects. Over the past few years collaboration between NGOs and active stakeholder engagement has increased dramatically. Encouragingly, almost a third of the most contentious CDM hydro projects have had their validations terminated.

Currently 477 large hydro projects have been registered in the CDM and another 371 are seeking registration. This project type is forecasted to account for over 20% of CERs issued by 2020.[1] Large hydro projects have long been contentious because most of these projects are clearly non-additional[2] (they would have been built regardless of the CDM) and many projects cause serious environmental and social harm.[3]

For almost a decade, International Rivers has been working with partners on the ground to make their voices heard about the worst hydropower projects in the CDM pipeline. These projects[4] are not only non-additional, they have had insufficient public consultation and have caused negative impacts on community lands and livelihoods. In extreme cases, there have been reports of human rights abuses by project developers.

To help bring this information to light, International Rivers works with local and partner groups to submit comments during the public commenting periods. We send letters[5] to the CDM Executive Board and encourage our partners to do the same, often with the support of CDM Watch. Our input to the CDM validation process and related campaigns has had tangible positive results. For example, our report[6] on its public consultation violations and a CDM Watch media campaign on the Xiaoxi Dam in China led the German government to call for a second investigation into the project by the validator. As a result, the compensation scheme for the relocated population was improved considerably.

As of July 2011, of the 46 projects we have opposed, almost a third have had their validations terminated (i.e. the contract between developer and DOE was cancelled), and another third have not yet completed their validation (the step preceding registration). A project that recently had its validation terminated is the 280MW Buon Kuop hydroelectric project in Vietnam, whose construction and operation has caused large-scale environmental, social and economic impacts to over 11,000 villagers in downstream communities in Cambodia since 2005. When the project applied for validation, two Cambodian groups sent letters to the CDM detailing the downstream impacts and criticising the project’s additionality claims.

Unfortunately, some projects have been approved by the CDM despite evidence that they have violated rules or regulations. A recent example is the Barro Blanco project in Panama, which was registered despite being repeatedly accused of human rights abuses, illegal activities and providing inconsistent information[7] (the project continues to be opposed by local groups).

International Rivers’ efforts to stop harmful projects have grown substantially over the past few years. In 2002, we submitted a total of five comments on harmful hydro projects (two of these projects never got registered). Nine years on, we and our partners have submitted comments and letters on 46 projects. Our network has grown and over 30 partner groups and individuals have collaborated with us, including NRDC, Earthjustice International, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, and the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense.

While we cannot prove that any of these projects were halted solely because of our joint efforts (the reasons could range from controversy generated around the project to a project developer failing to meet deadlines), knowing that almost a third of these destructive projects will not be getting carbon credits as part of the CDM is encouraging. The struggle to stop many of these projects continues, because in most cases, projects are built even if stakeholder action succeeds in preventing them from registering as CDM projects. However, our experience enabling local stakeholders to voice their opposition shows that a concerted effort by civil society organisations is a powerful tool to raise awareness and influence opinion. It has also given local groups a chance to see some of their efforts pay off and helped to create a global network of regional CDM experts ready to campaign against the shortcomings of CDM hydropower projects in their communities.

International Rivers continues to work on trying to stop harmful hydro projects in the CDM. 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. For more information, please visit

Our input to the CDM validation process and related campaigns has had tangible positive results.


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