What is the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol?
The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, or ‘Protocol’ as it’s known for short, is a set of tools which measure the sustainability of an individual hydropower project. 
It is divided into four sections: Early Stage, Preparation, Implementation, and Operation, each of which refers directly to the stage the project is at. Each section contains a number of different sustainability topics, directly relevant to the project stage, against which a hydropower project is assessed. These topics cover the full range of sustainability perspectives, including environmental, social, technical and financial aspects.
Projects are assessed against each topic and given a score from 1 to 5 (5 being proven best practice). The scores are supported by detailed scoring statements and assessment guidance.
How is the Protocol structured?

The four sections reflect different stages of the project life cycle:

  • Early Stage
  • Preparation
  • Implementation
  • Operation
The Protocol is provided as four separate documents, one for each section, providing a stand-alone assessment tool to measure performance of a hydropower project against sustainability criteria appropriate to that point in the project life cycle. Each protocol section contains a set of aspects important to forming a view on the overall sustainability of that project at that point in its life cycle. An aspect is one of a set of key sustainability issues with regard to technical, social, environmental and economical considerations. Up to six criteria are assessed for each aspect. These are: assessment , management , stakeholder consultation, stakeholder support, compliance and conformance, and outcomes.

This is explained in more detail in the Protocol Background Document
What is the assessment process?
An assessment using the Protocol is an evaluation of a hydropower project against a series of relevant sustainability topics, determined by the stage of the project (Early Stage, Preparation, Implementation, or Operation). It requires a visit to the hydropower project which collects evidence in the form of site tours and interviews with all relevant parties (ranging from the hydropower operator or developer, through to community, NGO and local government representatives). Written evidence is also collected to support the visual and interview-based information gathered. 
The visit results in an assessor writing an assessment report which provides a series of scores and supporting arguments for the particular hydropower project against the sustainability topics relevant to the project. Assessments attempt to capture as in-depth as possible look at a project and to provide an objective, evidence-based judgement of a project’s sustainability.
How does scoring work?

Scoring is an essential feature of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol.

Each topic is scored between 1 and 5.

Level 1 = significant gaps to basic good practice 
Level 3 = basic good practice
Level 5 = proven best practice

Basic good practice is defined with an awareness of what is achievable in countries with limited resources or capacities or with projects of smaller scales and complexities.

Proven best practice is defined with an awareness of the global applicability of this tool, so that best practice it is not only attainable by the largest projects with the most resources at their disposal.

Each topic contains score instructions, which identify the requirements to be met to receive a particular score. These scores are assigned by the auditor based on observations, interviews with relevant stakeholders, and review of objective evidence.

How do the Protocol deal with different types of project?

The Protocol is intended to be a globally applicable sustainability assessment tool for hydropower regardless of type, scale or other reservoir uses. It can be used for storage, run of river or pump stoarge schemes.

Each topic has guidance to decide if it is relevant and should be assessed on a project. This recognises that not all topics will be relevant to every hydropower project. For example, if there is no reservoir then it is not necessary to assess the topic 'Reservoir Management'. Exclusion of a topic is reliant on credible evidence to justify this decision.

How do we ensure that with so many aspects that some of fundamental importance are not lost in the detail?

The Protocol needs to reflect the many dimensions of hydropower sustainability, including economic, environmental, financial, social, and technical aspects as well as many issues that cut across these themes. Mapping of high profile and cross-cutting themes, supplemented by guidance notes, is part of this approach. Providing a range of options on how outcomes of the assessment can be presented and analysed is another part. 

Who should use the Protocol?

The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol is an assessment framework of sustainability for hydropower projects. Potential users and uses include, but are not limited to:

  • Governments, potential financiers and other decision-makers to ensure that new hydropower developments are an appropriate solution for the context in which they are proposed;
  • Companies, governments, financial institutions and NGOs to guide development of new hydropower facilities;
  • Companies, governments and development agencies to assess the sustainability of existing operations and develop programs for improvement;
  • NGOs and civil society to evaluate the sustainability of hydropower projects at different life cycle stages, to form their own views on the sustainability performance of operators and financiers with respect to hydropower projects, and to form a basis for dialogue on these projects;
  • Developers, financial institutions and other investors in assessing the risks of potential investments and as part of due diligence;
  • The hydropower sector in seeking external qualification for financing from banks, carbon credits (e.g. CDM/JI), renewable energy credits (e.g. RECs), recognition in voluntary markets (e.g. green certificates); and the administrators of these schemes in judging admission;
  • Verification agencies certifying a level of sustainability; and
  • Hydropower owners/operators for corporate sustainability management and training.
  • All sectors, including project affected communities, providing a common basis for dialogue on sustainability issues;
Does the Protocol set standards for acceptable performance?

The Protocol is an assessment tool that describes levels of performance on key hydropower sustainability issues without specifying guidelines or minimum standards on acceptable performance.

This is a foundation step, and there will be follow-up work on different application and implementation pathways, all with the common objective of lifting sustainability performance in the hydropower sector. This follow-up work is yet to be defined, but is highly likely to include pathways towards development of a sector standard. 

What is a Sustainability Partner?
A Sustainability Partner is an organisation which has signed up to trial the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol at a hydropower project within their sphere of influence. Sustainability Partners receive a package of services from IHA, including training/capacity building, an unofficial Protocol assessment, an official Protocol assessment, and promotion as a Sustainability Partner, over the course of a three year engagement.
IHA can also tailor the terms of the Sustainability Partner engagement to suit specific circumstances. For more information contact us
How are decommissioning and relicensing dealt with?

The Protocol does not have specific sections to address decommissioning and relicensing. Hydropower projects tend to have an extensive lifetime, with many projects having been in service for more than a century. Major project decisions relating to project or network re-optimisation, project life extension or decommisioning would ideally go back to the Early Stage tool. Project decisions relating to refurbishment could go back to Preparation stage. In the case of re-licensing which would be assessing existing operations, the Operation tool will be appropriate.

How does the Protocol relate to the World Commission on Dams?

The World Commission on Dams (WCD) was an extensive review of the performance of large dams conducted between 1998 and 2000, based on a process of submissions, hearings, surveys and case studies, out of which was proposed a new framework for decision-making for the water and energy sectors. UNEP’s Dams & Development Project (DDP) was a six-year follow up to the WCD, and resulted in a consensus around the Core Values and the Strategic Priorities of WCD, on which the Protocol built.

The Protocol is not an attempt to duplicate or re-write the WCD outcomes. Unlike WCD, it is not a Commission reviewing performance of a sector. The Protocol is a cross-sector collaboration looking at an existing performance measurement tool and proposing enhancements. It draws on WCD Core Values and Strategic Priorities, along with other existing principles and policies, in its work to develop a practical assessment tool for hydropower sustainability.

What was the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum (the “Forum)?

The Forum was a collaboration of representatives of developed and developing countries, environmental and social NGOs, commercial and development banks, and the hydropower sector who aimed to develop a broadly endorsed sustainability assessment tool to measure and guide performance in the hydropower sector.

The Forum members were jointly reviewing and recommending enhancements to the previous IHA Sustainability Assessment Protocol (2006), developed as a measuring tool to assess social, environmental and economic performance of hydropower projects and operating facilities against criteria described in the IHA Sustainability Guidelines (2004).

The Forum held its first meeting in March 2008, and appointed a Forum Coordinator in April 2008. 

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