Junaid Ahmad is the senior director of the World Bank’s Global Water Practice. In this video interview, he spoke with us about the investment case for hydropower and the world in 2050. You can read more of the interview below, and find out more about the World Hydropower Congress here.
How can hydropower help to meet the world’s water and energy challenges?
Hydropower is a very important aspect of ensuring access to water resources for energy production, flood management and irrigation. So hydro isn’t just about energy, hydro is really about water management in the service of development.
As you know, Africa is undergoing one of the fastest rates of urbanisation in the history of mankind. We are seeing the growth of cities and towns, and the question African leaders are asking us are: will there be enough water to sustain the urbanisation process of Africa?
By that question they don’t just mean “do we have good water agencies to service households and businesses”, but also where is that water going to come from – and hydro is a very important part of that answer.
How can rapid development be reconciled with good, sustainable practices?
I think sustainability is the recognition that when we deliver services we have to make sure they are fiscally sustainable and that they are accountable to citizens.
There is also the question of whether the resources we are using are actually sustainable over time. So sustainability has different dimensions.
I think over the last decade we have recognised that sustainability means developing infrastructure that can give to our future generation of life and not take away, so we now have a much more comprehensive approach.
A big element of sustainability is ensuring the markets price the resources correctly. Water and energy needs to be priced taking into account the value both environment and society as well as services.
Sustainability requires this relationship between the state and citizens, where the citizens determine what is needed in terms of the services. When you put those things together – the pricing, the institutions, the voice – you then begin to truly reflect sustainability the way we need to.
Is hydropower worth the cost?
I think it’s a simple costing benefit story. I don’t think there’s an ideology view where one source of energy versus another is better, it’s really the facts on the ground.
You see the rise of the institutions such as the BRICS development bank as an expression that some countries will begin to create institutions that reflect their voice more strongly"
Hydropower is an incredible source of delivering energy which is friendly to the climate and long-run sustainable, and if you look at history hydropower has been a big source of economic development for developed nations. It’s interesting that with those saying that hydropower today is not worth it, to try to understand why historically it was worth it for developed countries and suddenly it’s not worth it for developing countries.
So for me it’s an issue of putting the numbers together and doing the homework, and my sense is that we are far from saying that it’s not worth it – hydropower fits very nicely in a spectrum of investment that a nation will make. If you look at Brazil, 80 per cent of its energy is from hydropower, and I think the cost benefit there is extremely powerful.
When we’re moving towards a system where energy needs will increase by 35 per cent and food needs will increase by 40–50 per cent over the same period of time, and water demands will go up, and in those contexts having access to hydraulic infrastructure that enables irrigation, energy and good flood management together, I think the economics is on the side of hydropower
How can we deliver on regional development challenges?
There are different dialogues around the notion of development where it meets the global interface. Private sector is one layer of conversation, as businesses talk to each other across national borders. But this is not to say that these conversations are easy and always constructive.
People represent their national boundaries without necessarily taking a global perspective. I think you see the rise of the institutions such as the BRICS development bank as an expression that some countries will begin to create institutions that reflect their voice more strongly, and I think that’s welcomed because it enables greater co-operation and greater voice.
This is a dialogue that’s going to happen at different levels, and at the World Bank we really open the door to be a place where such dialogues can happen.
What will the world look like in 2050?
Let’s look at what’s happening in the world today. Urbanisation – this means we’re going to see the growth of cities and big metropolitan areas. So you have Mexican city on one side and you’re going to have New Delhi, Dhaka, Jakarta on the Asian side, and in meeting their needs in the future, their voice becomes very important.
Second is that the nation state is changing and becoming more decentralised, so the voice of local governments will start to matter. At the same time you’re finding the emergence of voice across national boundaries – the European Union is a perfect example, or the northern American trade treaty – so more of those conversations are going to happen.
Third is that the private sector around the world is evolving, and the nature of private sector is going extremely global, so the bottom line is that these big shifts that are happening around the world will require new systems of infrastructure and service delivery.
My bet is that you’re going to see boundaries broken between nations in terms of infrastructure, electricity being traded, gas being traded, water being traded and transport corridors being built.
You will find local voices demanding greater sustainability, but these will not take away from investing in hydro – I think they will make the investment in hydro more accountable, and more important the demand for hydro will continue to grow.
The demand for economic growth and development is an unending aspiration, and hydro has a role to play in there.
You can find out more about the World Hydropower Congress here.