Report: Renewables can solve climate, energy challenge and preserve rivers

The WWF and The Nature Conservancy have released a report that “demonstrates how the renewable energy revolution can solve the world’s climate and energy challenge without sacrificing its remaining free-flowing rivers and the diverse benefits they provide to people and nature.”

The report was launched on the eve of the World Hydropower Congress in Paris and is entitled Connected and Flowing: A renewable future for rivers, climate and people.

According to a press release: With costs of solar power, wind generation and storage technologies plunging – as well as significant advances in energy efficiency and grid management – it is possible for the world to expand electricity generation to provide power to the billion people who lack access, while drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preserving tens to hundreds of thousands of kilometers of free-flowing rivers.

“We can not only envision a future where electricity systems are accessible, affordable and powering economies with a mix of renewable energy, we can now build that future,” said Jeff Opperman, WWF freshwater scientist and lead author on the report. “By accelerating the renewable energy revolution, we can secure a brighter future for people and nature with power systems that are low carbon, low cost and low impact.”

The report found that accelerating the renewable revolution could prevent nearly 165,000 km of river channels from being fragmented, while still helping to limit global temperatures to below a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Along with tackling climate change, this would help slow the catastrophic decline in freshwater species populations, which have fallen by 83% since 1970.

“A key recommendation of last week’s landmark global assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services was for governments to protect and restore river connectivity,” said Mark Lambrides, The Nature Conservancy’s director of energy and infrastructure. “The renewable energy revolution offers an opportunity to plan for the right mix of renewable sources in power systems, while avoiding fragmenting rivers, potentially displacing communities and contributing to the loss of freshwater fisheries that feed millions.”

A study recently published in Nature revealed that just 37% of the world’s longest rivers remain free-flowing, with dams and reservoirs the leading cause of this connectivity loss. The press release says the “renewable revolution” will “herald a significant reduction in new dams and a shift towards low-impact projects, which support the expansion of solar and wind – such as retrofitting existing hydropower dams, adding turbines to non-powered dams, and off channel pumped storage.”

The potential of utility-scale, low-impact wind and solar – on converted lands, such as agricultural and degraded land and rooftops – represents the equivalent of 17 times the renewable energy targets countries have committed to under the Paris Climate Agreement, the report authors say. The report calls for governments to create competitive frameworks to accelerate the renewable revolution. Governments should also reassess their existing hydropower plans by factoring in the full value of rivers – including the ecosystem services they provide – and considering lower impact alternatives.

WWF is an independent conservation organization, with a mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. The Nature Conservancy is a conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends.

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