The dam industry, the World Commission on Dams and the HSAF process

Peter Bosshard
International Rivers, Berkeley, CA, USA; peter@internationalrivers.org

ABSTRACT: Most actors of the global dam industry primarily operate within their national borders, and are either controlled by or do most of their business with the state. Because of this, the dam industry was slow to respond to the creation of the World Commission on Dams (WCD), and did not provide coordinated inputs into the WCD process. The hydropower industry is the part of the dam industry which is most directly affected by international policy developments. Not surprisingly, the hydropower sector provided the most systematic response to the WCD report among all industry actors, initially through a defensive reaction and subsequently through the creation of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum. While the hydropower industry was largely united in its rejection of the policy principles put forward by the WCD, its proactive approach has been beset by divisions and contradictions.

While some industry actors are trying to strengthen the environmental norms which are being applied in the sector, others do not see a need for this. Trying to balance such diverging views, the hydropower industry would like to establish norms that can create predictability through the certification of projects. Yet it is not prepared to accept binding minimum standards which would confer new obligations to the hydropower industry.