Jian-Hua Meng is senior sustainable hydropower specialist at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). In this video interview, he spoke with us about fish migration and the potential impacts if it is not well managed in hydropower development. You can read more of the interview below, and find out about the World Hydropower Congress session on aquatic species connectivity here.
What is the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol?
The protocol is a tool that measures the sustainability of a hydropower project across a range of different topics relating to social, environmental, social and technical issues.
It was developed through three years of multi-stakeholder engagement across governments, social and environmental NGOs, commercial and development banks, and hydropower industry. WWF has been involved in its development and governance from the very start.
How have you been involved in its development personally?
I came on board when the multi-stakeholder forum that developed it was up and running. I supported the process of trialling, testing and collecting input in many places all over the planet.
After the protocol was finalised and published, I became a member of the transitional governance committee, and after that I had the great pleasure and honour to be chair of the environmental chamber of the protocol’s governing body.
Why has WWF participated in developing the tool?
Broadly speaking, we feel that hydropower has a significant role to play in a future renewable and sustainable mix that we will need on this planet, so we feel the need to give this development a good direction.
Ultimately it’s the responsibilities of governments of those countries to make sure that their fresh water assets are intact."
We are happy to contribute to that, and that is why WWF actually helped to kickstart the process back in 2007. We do feel that with the protocol we can give guidance for the improvement of hydropower.
Hydropower has the potential to do good things if done right – especially in the right places – and these complex multi-disciplinary decisions need guidance.
We feel that we have something to contribute, and that the protocol is the right way to give this input.
One of the topics covered by the protocol is fish migration. Why is it such an important topic?
Great progress has been made in understanding the need for fish migration, and also the technological requirements to get a fish up and down an obstacle. There is still a big lack of understanding, especially in the newer emerging thinking of fish downwards passage, particularly in areas that are not as well researched and I’m thinking very much about tropical species.
There is still a wealth of species which are not very well known to science. We don’t know their requirements – we don’t know how powerful swimmers they are to get them up and down a technical fish pass or a by-pass solution.
We don’t even know the abilities, for example, of a giant Mekong catfish to swim into a fish elevator or other device to migrate up or down to access spawning grounds, so in the absence of this knowledge we see it is a requirement to understand what these species actually need.
We see incredible power in multi-stakeholder processes."
Whose responsibility is it to tackle it?
Ultimately it’s the responsibilities of governments of those countries to make sure that their fresh water assets are intact.
Obviously these have the obligations to feed their people and to give them energy security and water security, but we do urge governments to make sure that these choices are not made in a quick-fix emergency manner, but with a broader perspective view, and not to make decisions that have to be fixed at great costs – if they are fixable at all – at a later stage.
Take the time to make your science properly, and then you can think about how to plan a project properly.
How can technology help to mitigate the loss of biodiversity?
I want to stress first that mitigation comes pretty much at the end of the thinking. It is very important before actually thinking about mitigation to start thinking about avoidance, and if there are impacts or risks that cannot be reasonably avoided then these should be minimised as far as reasonably possible.
Only this after avoidance and minimisation can we think about mitigation of the residual risks and impacts.
There are ways of mitigating risk cuts, for example if we lose the connectivity in a river through a dam there is a way of building fish passages, and these are reasonably advanced in some regions.
But it’s probably not always the best choice to go for mitigation – actually weigh the risk first.
Why is it important to achieve consensus with different stakeholders?
We see incredible power in multi-stakeholder processes. Agendas that are taken forward by just one single perspective won’t get very far. If we want to change something for the better we need to get willing partners on board to move in a direction that helps everybody.
We see great power in that approach, and that is why we chose to be part of the protocol as it is today.
We have seen the hydropower dialogue come a long way. If we think back to not so long ago it was a very conflicted area; there were lots of opinions, but seldom constructive approaches.
We do think that through the negotiation process around creating this protocol, a lot of understanding and learning has been achieved on all sides.
Jian-Hua Meng will be speaking in a session on connectivity for aquatic species at the 2015 World Hydropower Congress. Find out more here.