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Hydropower and the pathway to net zero

To successfully limit global warming to 1.5°C, reducing carbon emissions to net zero is essential.

Sustainable hydropower will play a vital role in international efforts to achieve this target.

Nature's own battery

Hydropower is the perfect complement to variable energy sources solar and wind power.

When the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, hydropower can reliably supply homes and businesses with clean electricity.

Investing in sustainable hydropower will help electricity grids to expand renewable supply in a stable and reliable way, without the need to fall back on fossil fuels to avoid blackouts.
Learn more about hydropower as a water battery

Hydropower: the facts

• Hydropower is among the cleanest sources of electricity, with a low greenhouse gas emission intensity compared to other energy forms.

• Globally, 60 per cent of all renewable electricity is generated by hydropower. In total, hydropower produces about 16 per cent of global electricity generation.

• No country has come close to achieving 100% renewables without hydropower in the energy mix.

• Using hydropower instead of fossil fuels for electricity generation has helped to avoid more than 100 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in the past 50 years.
Read more facts about hydropower

Climate targets

By the conclusion of the United Nations COP26 climate conference, the number of countries pledging to reach a target of achieving net zero emissions had reached 140, covering four-fifths of the world.

Achieving net zero by around mid-century, as is called for by the Glasgow Climate Pact, is underpinned by an expansion of clean energy produced by renewables such as hydropower, wind and solar power.
Find out more about Hydropower at cop26

Committing to a sustainable future

Reaching the net zero emissions target requires a potential doubling of current global hydropower capacity, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

As with all energy infrastructure projects, hydropower projects need to be built responsibly and sustainably, safeguarding communities and the environment.

Industry initiative

A landmark declaration was issued by the hydropower sector at the conclusion of the 2021 World Hydropower Congress.

The San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower urges green investment in responsible hydropower and places enhanced environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance expectations on the sector.
Learn more about the declaration

Sustainable development

Hydropower provides multiple purposes beyond electricity generation, including infrastructure to supply clean water for homes, industry and agriculture. 

Hydropower can be used to regulate and store water to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events such as floods and drought.
Read more facts about hydropower

A new Standard

Read the consultation paper on the development of a global sustainability standard for hydropower.

If adopted, the Hydropower Sustainability Standard would apply a rating, or label, to projects of any size or stage of development.

The pathway to net zero

More than 500 GW of hydropower installations are in the pipeline worldwide, but this is far short of what is required to limit dangerous global warming.

This leaves a 300 GW gap in what is required from hydropower by 2050 to limit global warming to 2°C, and a gap of over 600 GW in what is required to limit warming to 1.5°C and achieve net zero emissions.

This is the conclusion of a major new report, Hydropower 2050: Identifying the next 850+ GW towards 2050. The report assesses pathways to net zero modelled by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), against current and future planned hydropower capacity. Read more.

Advancing sustainable hydropower

The International Hydropower Association (IHA) is working to build knowledge on renewable hydropower's contribution to climate mitigation and adaption.

Planning hydropower systems from a long-term, climate-resilient perspective will protect operations and infrastructure from future climate-related risks.

To support owners, developers, governments and investors to plan, build, upgrade and operate facilities in the face of changing climatic and hydrological conditions, we recently published a Hydropower Sector Climate Resilience Guide.

We also provide training and validation services for the GHG Reservoir (G-res) Tool, which is used to report on the carbon footprint of hydropower projects.

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Find out more about IHA’s work on climate change.

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