Nearly one-third of the world’s population has no access to electricity. Without concerted action at least 3.5 billion people, nearly 50% of the global community will face water scarcity by 2025. At the same time the world’s energy systems, substantially based on fossil fuels, account for a significant proportion of the greenhouse gas emissions that are leading to climate change and global warming.
How to promote socio-economic development and eradicate poverty, whilst simultaneously halting environmental degradation, is one of the greatest challenges at the start of the 21st century. This challenge is most conspicuous in the policy for water and energy, as both are essential elements for human life. From Stockholm in 1972 to Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and Johannesburg in 2002, world leaders have increasingly concluded that these elements must be considered in an integrated way.
The hydropower sector, encapsulated by both water and energy policy, has often found itself at the centre of the debate on sustainability. The World Commission on Dams (1998-2000) concluded that water infrastructure projects, including hydropower schemes, had ‘too often’ been developed at an environmentally or socially unacceptable cost. However, the Commission did not recommend that hydropower should be discouraged in the future, or that only the smallest of schemes should be developed. Instead, a more inclusive process was recommended in the planning, development and management of water and energy schemes.
There is no single solution to the world’s quest for more, cleaner energy and effective water management. Energy and water for sustainable development depend not only on supply choices, but also on how these choices are implemented.