Some weeks ago I gave a speech in Naters in the Swiss Alps – a meeting organised by the Committee of the UNESCO Natural Heritage site Jungfrau-Aletsch.
Water is essential for the Jungfrau-Aletsch region – for daily life, for agriculture, for nature and, as a consequence, for tourism. Dams used for hydropower are particularly important – in many valleys they were the starting point for communities moving out of poverty during the 20th century, whilst also reducing the risk of floods and stabilising the water flows.
In the discussion, one speaker on the panel made it clear that this form of generation of electrical energy is at risk today.
What he said is that actually hydropower, from the dams in the alps and elsewhere, is far superior to any other form of energy, if you look at both the environmental impact, the overall externalities, the energy conversion efficiency and also the possibilities of energy storage and easy access to the energy when you need it (i.e. providing peak energy at any point in time). But recently, the market for electricity has been flooded with a surplus of solar and wind power -- relatively unreliable, but highly subsidised. With actual production costs between 20 and 50 Swiss cents, it is sold at some 4.5 to 5 Swiss cents. It does not need large amounts of such heavily subsidised energy to massively distort markets through low marginal prices and therefore hydropower is crowded out. New dams that are urgently needed cannot be built while some existing dams have difficulties to cover the variable cost. He fears that present policies and the kind of subsidies outlined will drive the best possible form of renewable energy, namely hydropower, against a wall.
Is this something that also happens elsewhere in Europe? Your comments and ideas on how to address this would be most welcome.
In his opening speech of the Budapest Water Summit on water, health, security – particularly food security –, and economic progress the UN Secretary General quoted the 40% gap in water withdrawals for human needs not covered by sustainable supply.
“Water holds the key to sustainable development. We need it for health, food security and economic progress. Yet, each year brings new pressures.”
“We must address unsustainable use… We must use what we have more equitably and wisely. Guaranteeing a water secure world will require the full engagement of all actors, not least the world of business.”
Tim Hanstad is President and CEO at Landesa, a global development non-profit that works to secure land rights for the world’s poor. You can follow him @Landesa_Global.
Tim was kind enough to join as a speaker at one of the Davos breakfast discussions that I hosted during the WEF Annual Meetings of the last ten years; I was and am impressed by what he is doing. His post is meant as a follow-up to my own post about the lack of transparency related to land purchase in Africa to grow food for biofuels. Thanks for his guest post, and, as usual, comments are most welcome.
Despite all the facts showing the devastating impact of using food for fuel even modest first steps like the 5% cap for food-based biofuels as proposed by the European Commission seem to have difficulties to find a majority. With the letter below sent to some of the European leaders that I signed together with ActionAid, Oxfam, WWF and Unilever, we insist that is not just a matter of local politics but one that implies global responsibility.
As a reminder, water is the linchpin. We are already overusing the sustainable supply of freshwater by more than 10%, and now we face increasing withdrawals to grow food used for fuels – up to 9,100 litres of freshwater per litre of diesel – driven by government policies using mandates and subsidies in more than 40 countries across the world, as well as developing countries. It is a cure worse than the disease.
The letter is posted below – as usual I would appreciate your comments, and, if possible your support. The matter is too important to remain silent.