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Sustainable Development Goals: how does hydropower fit in?

With the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including a dedicated goal to provide universal access to modern energy services, hydropower has an important role to play in the post-2015 development agenda. Here, Tracy Lane, hydropower development director at IHA, explores the implications of the SDGs for the hydropower sector and international community.

Image of the Sustainable Development Goals icons highlighting goal 7 - "affordable and clean energy"On 25–27 September, the UN General Assembly met to officially adopt the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 SDGs aim to establish a common framework for the policy and development agenda across the 193 UN member states, looking toward the year 2030. They replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expire this year.

The 17 SDGs have been developed through an extensive public consultation process, and are intended to serve as goals which developing and developed countries can achieve together.

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the UN, hailed the SDGs as an “unprecedented opportunity to take far-reaching, long-overdue global action to secure our future well-being.”

The SDGs are expected not only to breathe new life into the international development agenda, but also to address aspects of development that were unfortunately overlooked or side-lined in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Furthermore, the SDGs share responsibility more equitably between developing and developed countries, involving the entire global community.

For example, the MDGs neglected the topic of energy access. Nonetheless, it is broadly accepted that widening access to sustainable energy services is necessary to achieve many of the other development goals. The SDGs acknowledge this with the inclusion of an explicit goal for energy.

The seventh SDG is to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all”. 

Hydropower has an important role to play in achieving this goal (SDG 7). There is broad consensus that, when properly planned and implemented, hydropower is an affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern technology. It can help communities, nations and regions to acquire a reliable supply of electricity, supporting economic and social development throughout the world.

Hydropower provides approximately 16 per cent of electricity worldwide, and there is the potential for it to play an even more central role in our future energy systems. Globally, there is an additional 10,000 TWh per year of undeveloped hydropower potential, which could bring modern energy services to millions of people.

And, if designed appropriately, this potential can also support the further contribution of other clean energy technologies. With 1.3 billion people still lacking access to reliable and modern energy services, the increased role of hydropower will be fundamental to achieving SDG 7.  

Given hydropower’s ability to provide multiple services – including freshwater management, climate mitigation, climate adaptation services, firm energy, energy storage and other ancillary services – hydropower can contribute to other SDGs as well, including those for water (SDG 6), resilient infrastructure (SDG 9), and climate change (SDG 13).

Now that the SDGs have been formally adopted, the real challenge lies in their implementation. Governments, relying heavily on the private sector, will need to consider the support needed to ensure successful outcomes. The NGO community will encourage action and monitor progress.

With the global community now focused on the new SDGs, there is an opportunity to address policy, capacity building, market and financing constraints to further promote hydropower and other renewables that will help to achieve SDG 7.

In particular, the financing required to achieve SDG 7 throughout the developing world is estimated at over USD 300 billion annually. This figure does not include the investment required to transition established energy infrastructure in developed countries to cleaner sources.

Both the public and private sectors will need to be involved to achieve a meaningful outcome. Supportive policy environments will be necessary for success, even with sufficient financial investment.

For the hydropower sector, access to incentive schemes such as feed-in tariffs (FITs), green bonds, and emissions trading schemes, as well as appropriate market pricing for all hydropower services will be critical for low income countries to invest in developing their hydropower resources.

2015 continues to be an important year for the global development agenda. Following the key Financing for Development conference in July, and the adoption of the SDGs this week, the next milestone international forum will be the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) UN climate change conference taking place in December. These negotiations are expected to impact heavily on the energy sector in particular.


You can find out more about the Sustainable Development Goals here.