Controlling biodiversity impacts of future global hydropower reservoirs by strategic site selection

11-12-2020 | Artikel

Further reservoir-based hydropower development can contribute to the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs) on affordable and clean energy, and climate action. However, hydropower reservoir operation can lead to biodiversity impacts, thus interfering with the SDGs on clean water and life on land. We combine a high-resolution, location-specific, technical assessment with newly developed life cycle impact assessment models, to assess potential biodiversity impacts of possible future hydropower reservoirs, resulting from land occupation, water consumption and methane emissions. 

We show that careful selection of hydropower reservoirs has a large potential to limit biodiversity impacts, as for example, 0.3% of the global hydropower potential accounts for 25% of the terrestrial biodiversity impact.

Local variations, e.g. species richness, are the dominant explanatory factors of the variance in the quantified biodiversity impact and not the mere amount of water consumed, or land occupied per kWh. The biodiversity impacts are mainly caused by land occupation and water consumption, with methane emissions being much less important.

Further, we indicate a trade-off risk between terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity impacts, as due to the weak correlation between terrestrial and aquatic impacts, reservoirs with small aquatic biodiversity impacts tend to have larger terrestrial impacts and vice versa.