The Protocol is the culmination of a long process of debate and dialogue initiated by IHA in response to the World Commission on Dams final report in 2000. IHA saw a need for a practically applicable tool to assess and demonstrate the sustainability of hydropower projects. This led in 2004 to IHA developing Sustainability Guidelines for the sector, with the intention that they provided practical and realistically implementable guidance.

By 2006, IHA had developed an initial sustainability assessment Protocol, intended to provide a uniform method of assessing sustainability on hydro projects worldwide. Recognising the value of this first version, WWF and The Nature Conservancy (environmental NGO’s) approached IHA with a view to further refining the tool. IHA agreed that the Protocol would benefit from a more inclusive process that would encompass sustainability perspectives from all hydropower stakeholders, and it was decided to bring together a group, the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum to achieve this.

The Forum was made up of representatives from social and environmental NGOs, governments of developed and developing countries, financial institutions, development banks, and the hydropower industry. Each member of the forum consulted with a reference group made up of organisations with similar interests and objectives. This structure increased the scope and reach of the forum to incorporate the perspectives of as broad a range of stakeholders as possible.

Within the Forum, developing countries were represented by the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research and by the Zambian Ministry of Energy and Water Development, this was particularly important for discussions around working with project affected communities. Developed countries were represented by the Norwegian department of Energy, the National Energy Authority of Iceland and GTZ of Germany. The hydropower sector was represented by the International Hydropower Association. NGOs such as Oxfam and Transparency International focused on the social aspects of hydropower projects, encouraging the direct participation of dam-affected people in the development process. WWF and The Nature Conservancy represented issues of interest to environmental NGO’s. The finance sector was represented by The World Bank (observer status) and Societe Generale and Citigroup, who in turn represented the Equator Principles Financial Institutions.

The current Protocol is the result of work by the Forum through an intensive period of debate and iterative drafting over a period of 30 months between 2008 and 2010. The Forum operated by negotiation and consensus, embedding stakeholder dialogue as the foundation of the Protocol. The forum members in their work drew on key existing guidelines and policies, particularly the World Bank safeguard policies, IFC performance standards and the World Commission on Dams’ criteria and guidelines.

Stakeholder engagement during this process occurred in 24 countries with over 1,300 participants, 3,800 interested observers, and several thousand visits to the draft Protocol website. Draft versions of the Protocol were trialled in 20 countries, involving 18 hydropower companies on six continents, and projects of all types, sizes and life cycle stages. Project affected communities were engaged in the trials.
The Protocol was published and launched at the IHA world congress in May 2011.

Click here to view the Forum statement of conclusion.