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Kandeh Yumkella: "We see hydropower as an integral part of Sustainable Energy For All"

Blog | Video: "We see hydropower as an essential part of Sustainable Energy for All" – Kandeh Yumkella
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Video: "We see hydropower as an essential part of Sustainable Energy for All" – Kandeh Yumkella

Kandeh Yumkella is the United Nations under-secretary general and the chief executive of Sustainable Energy for All. In this video interview, he spoke with us about the challenges in managing water resources and sustainably building new hydropower capacity. You can read more of the interview below.


What is Sustainable Energy For All? 

The Sustainable Energy for All initiative was launched by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President Jim Yong Kim of the World Bank to promote the idea of sustainable energy for all.  
It has three targets: to achieve universal access to energy by 2030; to double the annual rate of energy efficiency improvement by 2030; and to double the share of renewables by 2030.  Three targets in one narrative to keep the world within 2 degrees [temperature rise in celsius], and end energy poverty. 

Hydropower has to play a significant role, because it is one of the renewable energy sources and one of the cheapest forms of providing electricity. So we see hydropower as an integral part of Sustainable Energy for All.


What can we do better in the provision of sustainable water and energy services to the global population?

First of all we have to be cognisant of that important link between energy and water.  In many cases we need water to produce energy, but at the same time we need energy to make access to clean water possible. 

Most energy systems are thirsty apart from the use of water directly for generating power. Most energy technologies, including some of the renewable technologies, require water for cooling systems. How we use that water for producing energy must be optimised and done more efficiently.  

We need agreement on how we balance hydropower production with making clean water available for urban communities that are sprawling along river basins"

At the same time, communities need energy to have access to clean water, and then you begin to see the linkages between energy access, water access and food security.  

We believe we need to look at all three at the same time, and so we talk about the multiple benefits of the water–energy nexus for human development. We need to keep that in mind as we design programmes.


How do you think sustainability values can help promote development?

We believe that energy is the ultimate enabler of sustainable development.  This is why Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President Kim have led us in this campaign to ensure that energy access is included in the post-2015 development agenda.  

The secretary general has defined energy as the golden thread that runs through all pillars of sustainable development, meaning that without access to affordable, reliable energy we cannot get the health systems to run, we cannot make clean water available and ensure sanitation, nor can we ensure proper production of food.  

But in the case of using water to produce energy, we also have to put it in the context of climate change. If climate change worsens it means our reservoirs will not be able to generate as much power as we anticipate, and therefore hydropower production sustainability must be at the core of those kinds of projects. 

We also need to address sustainability in terms of eco-systems management within those river basins, and how we share these resources among countries, as a lot of rivers are trans-boundary.


How can water resources be managed at the regional level?

I think the biggest challenge, first of all, is agreeing on an inclusive dialogue that will make sure that resources can be shared optimally.

Secondly, we need agreement on how we balance hydropower production with making clean water available for urban communities that are sprawling along river basins, and thirdly how that water would be available for irrigation.

We have limited supplies of clean water. How we use that and share those resources among countries that live around river basins is going to be crucial.  

I know there are many successful examples to look at.  I live in Vienna and I know there are a good set of initiatives and institutions built around how communities are using the Danube River.  

Between the Austrians, Hungarians and other neighbours they have been able to cleverly use those water resources for navigation and movement of products along those rivers, for power generation, clean water availability and irrigation, while protecting the eco-systems.


Can the world’s hydropower capacity be doubled by 2050?

I believe that capacity expansion is possible but it has to be done within the context of sustainability, and sharing of best practices and developing good knowledge systems will be crucial if we are going to achieve that level of scale-up.

In doing this, we must emphasise stronger international co-operation, and assistance that can ensure better negotiations on how to use those water resources in a more inclusive way within the context of climate change.

Remember the worse scenarios of climate change predict droughts in some locations – so if you build a dam and then there is no water, then that is going to be a problem. And in other locations, floods will be a problem.

Will these new hydropower installations be climate-proofed properly?  Will they have resilience in case there is too much water?  How do you manage those water resources, and in fact do you have all the systems of storing water when you have these major changes in climate conditions?

If we deal with all these issues in the next 20 or 30 years, then the capacity of hydropower can be doubled – but we have to do it in a very careful way to make sure we avoid conflict.