Happy Birthday, World Commission on Dams!

At China Dialogue, International Rivers’ Peter Bosshard marks the 10th anniversary of the World Commission on Dams report, which was unveiled by Nelson Mandela in London on November 16th, 2000.

The commission proposed a new framework for decision-making, which avoided simply pitting economic against social and environmental interests. It presented innovative recommendations on how best to assess available needs and options in the energy and water sectors, integrate the various interests from the beginning of the planning process and respect the rights of all parties whose interests are at stake. Most importantly, the commission proposed that affected people should become active parties at the negotiating table, not just passive victims or beneficiaries of dam projects.

“Where rights compete or conflict, negotiations conducted in good faith offer the only process through which various interests can be legitimately reconciled,” the WCD report suggests ….

The Chinese government was initially opposed to an approach that strengthened the rights of dam-affected people. Yet in 2007 the government, like most other developing nations, voted in favor of the UN declaration recognising indigenous peoples’ right to consent. At the same time, several Chinese dam builders – hoping to sell carbon credits on the European market – claim that their projects comply with the recommendations of the WCD. An investigation by my organisation, US-based NGO International Rivers, found that the reality often does not live up to these claims. Yet hydropower companies can no longer claim that a framework that respects the rights of affected people and the environment cannot be implemented.


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