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New hydropower certification and labelling scheme launched with global support

  • New hydropower certification and labelling scheme launched with global support

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International Hydropower Association
Our mission is to advance sustainable hydropower by building and sharing knowledge on its role in renewable energy systems, responsible freshwater management and climate change solutions.


Leading hydropower companies and international organisations have declared their support for a new sustainability certification scheme for hydropower.

The Hydropower Sustainability Standard, launched at the World Hydropower Congress on 8 September 2021, will help to ensure that hydropower projects across the world are recognised and certified for their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance.

Developed by a coalition of industry, governments, multilateral and financial institutions and civil society organisations, the certification scheme aims to build trust and promote transparency in the hydropower sector.

“This new certification system is a game-changer for hydropower and is unmatched in the renewables sector,” commented Ashok Khosla, Chair of the Hydropower Sustainability Council which issued the new certification system.

The Hydropower Sustainability Standard is launched following a public consultation by the Hydropower Sustainability Council, with the support of the International Hydropower Association (IHA). The Standard is cited in the San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower, to be issued at the conclusion of the World Hydropower Congress, as the means to demonstrate a project’s sustainability.

Leading members of IHA have declared their support for the new certification scheme. Developers, operators and manufacturers – from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Iceland, Sarawak (Malaysia), the United Kingdom and the United States – have either already confirmed they will put forward projects for certification or have urged their clients to comply with the new standard.  

International organisations including the International Energy Agency (IEA), conservation groups, as well as former government heads have stated support for the new industry assurance system.  

‘Earn the right to be labelled as certified sustainable’

Hydropower projects will have to meet strict ESG performance criteria following an independent assessment to be awarded a new Certified Sustainable Hydropower label. Projects can be certified during planning, construction and operation, and the highest performers will be recognised with Silver and Gold certification status.  

Dr Khosla said: “To meet the critical challenge of climate change, we urgently need greater investment in renewable energy such as hydropower. Due to the scale of investment required, the hydropower sector needs a credible, transparent certification scheme that will incentivise the best projects. This will give communities, governments and investors greater confidence about their net benefits and how impacts on the local environment are mitigated.”

“The Hydropower Sustainability Standard has not only gained the support of industry but also of governments, international organisations, finance institutions and NGOs. Projects that go through the independent assessment process and pass certification will earn the right to be labelled as ‘certified sustainable’ in line with internationally agreed performance criteria.”

‘Hydropower is at the heart of the energy transition’

The International Hydropower Association (IHA) said it would expect its members to certify new projects under the Hydropower Sustainability Standard, in line with the organisation’s updated membership charter. Achieving certification will help demonstrate alignment with the green bond requirements of the Climate Bonds Initiative and the EU Taxonomy for Sustainable Investment, as well as with World Bank and IFC performance standards.

IHA Chief Executive Eddie Rich said: “Hydropower is at the heart of the energy transition alongside wind and solar. The Hydropower Sustainability Standard is a clear and simple system to certify and assure hydropower projects as meeting minimum environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance expectations. It will address any confusion about whether a new hydropower project is sustainable and will, crucially, help to unblock green investment and licensing decisions.”

Launched at the World Hydropower Congress

At the opening plenary of the World Hydropower Congress, IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol backed the forthcoming Hydropower Sustainability Standard yesterday, saying: “We welcome the work done on [the] Hydropower Sustainability Standard by the Hydropower Sustainability Council and IHA in assembling a multi-stakeholder group and creating tools which set out best practices for the sector.”

“While there is a strong potential for hydropower projects to grow, and I hope it will grow, it is important that new hydropower projects are in line with sustainability standards and this is in my view critical for the next years to come,” Dr Birol added.

At the opening session, Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Executive Chairman of the Institute for Global Change, said: “The [Hydropower] Sustainability Standard will be a really important innovation and, most importantly, it will allow the international community to invest in hydro projects.”

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull added: “There will be no excuse for any hydropower developer to fall short of international good practice. If governments play their part and the private sector commits that no hydropower project goes ahead unless it meets this standard, then we can contemplate a fully green, clean, modern and affordable electricity supply by 2050.”

Grant scheme for certification assessments

Hydropower developers and operators seeking certification under the Hydropower Sustainability Standard can access a grant to part sponsor the cost of an independent project assessment. Up to 1 million Swiss Francs (US$ 1.02m) is available for 40 or more projects over four years. The Hydropower Sustainability ESG Assessment Fund is managed by the International Hydropower Association (IHA)’s non-profit sustainability division and funded by the Swiss government’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).  

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