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Policy considerations for greenhouse gas emissions from freshwater reservoirs

Kirsi Mäkinen
Researcher, Finnish Environment Institute, Helsinki, Finland;
Shahbaz Khan
Chief, Water and Sustainable Development Section, UNESCO, Paris, France;

ABSTRACT: Emerging concern over greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from wetlands has prompted calls to address the climate impact of dams in climate policy frameworks. Existing studies indicate that reservoirs can be significant sources of emissions, particularly in tropical areas. However, knowledge on the role of dams in overall national emission levels and abatement targets is limited, which is often cited as a key reason for political inaction and delays in formulating appropriate policies. Against this backdrop, this paper discusses the current role of reservoir emissions in existing climate policy frameworks. The distance between a global impact on climate and a need for local mitigation measures creates a challenge for designing appropriate mechanisms to combat reservoir emissions. This paper presents a range of possible policy interventions at different scales that could help address the climate impact of reservoirs. Reservoir emissions need to be treated like other anthropogenic greenhouse gases. A rational treatment of the issue requires applying commonly accepted climate change policy principles as well as promoting participatory water management plans through integrated water resource management frameworks. An independent global body such as the UN system may be called upon to assess scientific information and develop GHG emissions policy at appropriate levels.