Following a request by the Danube Ministerial Conference 2010, the ICPDR has become active in initiating a dialogue with representatives from the hydropower sector. As an essential step in this process, "Guiding Principles on Sustainable Hydropower Development in the Danube Basin" have been developed by an interdisciplinary team and were finalised and adopted in June 2013.
The transposition of energy systems towards renewables is amongst one of the key challenges for societies. Beside actions to increase the efficiency of the use of energy, tapping additional renewable energy potentials is required for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in order to combat climate change. Next to wind, solar and biomass, hydropower plays an important role in the provision of renewable energy and the stabilisation of the electricity grid.
However, like other forms of renewable energy also hydropower cannot be considered as sustainable per se due to different negative environmental impacts inter alia on fish populations, sediment transport or adjacent wetlands, thus requiring a balanced approach for the preservation of healthy ecosystems.
Acknowledging the challenge of sustainable hydropower development in the frame of the existing legal and policy framework, the Ministers of the Danube countries asked the ICPDR in the frame of the 2010 Danube Ministerial Meeting “to organise in close cooperation with the hydropower sector and all relevant stakeholders a broad discussion process with the aim of developing guiding principles on integrating environmental aspects in the use of existing hydropower plants, including a possible increase of their efficiency, as well as in the planning and construction of new hydropower plants”.
The activity was launched in 2011 and is building on the achievements of a similar process on Inland Navigation, which was already previously launched together with the Sava Commission and Danube Commission. The aim is to get the right balance and an agreement on how to address problems of existing hydropower, respectively to establish guidance for where and how to develop hydropower in the future.
The three “Lead Countries” Austria, Romania and Slovenia committed to take a stronger role within the frame of the ICPDR in order to steer the process of the development of the Guiding Principles. This work was supported by a “Team of Experts” with participation of representatives from energy and environmental administrations, the European Commission, Energy Community, sector representatives as well as environmental interest groups and the scientific community.
In the course of a number of meetings and workshops, an Assessment Report and a collection of Case Studies and Good Practice Examples were elaborated, accompanying the Guiding Principles which were finalised and adopted by the Danube countries in June 2013.
The “Guiding Principles” are primarily addressed to public bodies and competent authorities responsible for the planning and authorization of hydropower. This includes in particular bodies on the national, regional and local level in charge of energy, environment and water management. Furthermore they also provide relevant information for potential investors in the hydropower sector as well as NGOs and the interested public.
Next steps and follow-up
The practical application of the Guiding Principles on the national level will be facilitated by an exchange of experiences in the frame of a follow-up process and building on the established network. The results of the activity are expected to have important implications for the Danube region. The hope is that this process brings transparency and openness to the decisions affecting water and energy made by ministries and hydropower companies in the months and years to come.