IHA reinforces World Heritage Sites no-go commitment in new UNESCO guidance

UNESCO has released the ‘no-go commitment for World Heritage Sites’ to provide guidance for corporate sustainability on committing to the preservation of designated heritage sites around the world.

The document invokes the international community as a whole to co-operate on the protection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the development of future hydropower projects.

The International Hydropower Association (IHA) has signed the fresh no-go commitment to ensure future hydropower projects are completed sustainably and should not be developed in UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This reiterates the sustainable hydropower sector’s landmark commitment in the San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower issued in September 2021, that future projects should not be developed in World Heritage Sites.  

UNESCO’s new release provides a clear seven-part guidance for companies to develop comprehensive strategies as part of their sustainability policies for safeguarding World Heritage with robust accountability mechanisms and transparent reporting procedures.

In the new guidance document, IHA CEO Eddie Rich writes: “Sustainable hydropower is vital to addressing global climate goals and enabling the clean energy transition. But it must be done in the right way. So today, one year after the original commitment, we are now re-issuing our call for hydropower companies around the world to IHA members to adopt the no-go commitment in World Heritage Sites.”

UNESCO World Heritage ‘no-go’ commitment

UNESCO defines World Heritage sites as, “cultural, natural and mixes sites of outstanding universal value (OUV) that exemplify some of humanity’s most exceptional heritage and treasures on our planet.”

World Heritage sites are protected under international law as humanity’s legacy to future generations and, as such, merit particular attention in corporate policies and business conduct. The World Heritage Committee strongly encouraged all banks, investment funds, the insurance industry, and other relevant private and public sector companies to adopt as part of their sustainability policies provisions to ensure that they are not financing projects with a negative impact on World Heritage sites, and that companies they provide financial services to subscribe to the ‘no-go’ commitment.

Hydropower Sustainability Standard

As with any infrastructure project, the construction of a hydropower facility will inevitably have local impacts on communities and the environment. It is incumbent on all stakeholders, especially the hydropower developer and operator, to seek to maximise project benefits while avoiding, minimising or mitigating any negative impacts.

The Hydropower Sustainability Standard, developed through multi-stakeholder consultation and governed by a body that includes representation from governments, social and environmental NGOs, multilateral banks, civil society organisations and industry, sets out international best practice for the sustainable development of hydropower projects.

San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower

IHA issued the San José Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower at the conclusion of the 2021 World Hydropower Congress, outlining a vision for hydropower’s contribution to meeting global climate and development goals.

The declaration was established as world leaders sought to identify pathways to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050; a target that cannot be realised without the flexibility and balance that sustainable hydropower provides to clean energy systems.

This declaration includes an unprecedented statement by the global hydropower community that new projects should not be developed in UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It also took new steps in committing to a duty of care in the development of hydropower projects that affect legally designated protected areas.

The historic document was developed by IHA and advanced through a public consultation process. IHA’s membership represents around 100 developers, operators and manufacturers that between them account for around a third of the world’s installed hydropower capacity. Upon the issuance of the declaration, COP26 President Alok Sharma said: “This Declaration is a first vital step in increasing the global deployment of hydropower, with solid principles to guide the developments of projects, and sound recommendations for governments and policymakers developed in consultation with businesses, financial institutions and civil society. And this exemplifies the collaborative approach we need to make the clean energy transition a reality.”

Read UNESCO’s no-go commitment.

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