Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP)

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The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol is an enhanced sustainability assessment tool which is being used to measure and guide performance in the hydropower sector. It can be seen as a continuation of the work begun by the World Commission on Dams (WCD), and aims to make the abstract term of 'sustainability' of dam projects practical and concrete.

The Protocol can be used at any stage of hydropower development, from the very earliest planning stages, right through to operation. It has been designed to work on projects and facilities anywhere in the world. To assess the sustainability of hydropower projects at all stages of development, the Protocol comprises five documents – a Background document and four assessment tools for the different stages of the project life cycle: Early Stage, Preparation, Implementation (= construction), and Operation.

Assessments rely on objective evidence to create a sustainability profile against some 20 topics depending on the relevant stage, and covering all aspects of sustainability.The Protocol topics cover the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental, and include issues such as downstream flow regimes, indigenous peoples, biodiversity, infrastructure safety, financial structuring, economic benefits, options assessment, resettlement, water quality, erosion, and sedimentation.

The assessment tools are used as a framework to produce a sustainability profile for a hydropower project. In so doing, multiple stakeholders can become better informed on the sustainability profile of a project, and develop strategies to address any weaknesses.


The Protocol is the result of intensive work from 2008 to 2010 by the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum, a multi-stakeholder body with representatives from social and environmental NGOs (Oxfam, The Nature Conservancy, Transparency International, WWF); governments (China, Germany [as an observer, represented by GIZ], Iceland, Norway, Zambia); commercial and development banks (Equator Principles Financial Institutions Group, The World Bank [as an observer]); hydropower operators and developers (Statkraft, Hydro Tasmania, and others); and hydropower consultants, contractors and suppliers (SinoHydro, Voith Hydro, Hydrofocus, Hydro Equipment Association, and others) . The development process of the Protocol involved field trials in 16 countries, across 6 continents, and stakeholder engagement with nearly 2,000 people in 28 countries.
The Protocol was officially launched in Brazil in June 2011 and is governed by a multi-stakeholder council, comprising a governance committee and a management entity, the latter residing within IHA. In May 2013 the Transitional Governance Committee has been replaced by the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Council as a permanent steering entity. GIZ is representing the German government as a permanent observer in the Protocol Governance Committee.

Status (early 2015)

With more than 30 assessments implemented so far (ten of them published here), and a long list of upcoming ones for 2015 and 2016, uptake of the Protocol is positive.

A Licensing Agreement for the Accredited Assessors has been developed and approved, which regulates the licensing of Accredited Assessors to undertake Protocol assessments, and the share of their remuneration that will flow back to the Protocol Management Entity. It is envisaged that these licensing fees eventually cover the expenses of running the Management Entity.

The Early Stage assessment tool is currently being reviewed and thoroughly tested. From a development perspective, which is shared by many other actors in the Protocol, this is perhaps the most important of stages in hydropower develoment, as the most far-reaching and basic decisions are taken here, such as location, size, options, etc. Mistakes in this early stage of project development can become very costly to rectify at a later stage, so special attention to the often very politically dominated early stafe is particularly valuable. The Early Stage tool offers practical support to this end.

A valuable asset is the true multi-stakeholder nature of the Protocol, with practically all interest groups represented in the Protocol's design and management processes. The shared aim of all involved parties is to facilitate 'better hydropower', and the Protocol presents a practical tool to assess and discuss what 'good' or 'better' means to each of the involved interest groups, and to identify ways for projects to 'improve'.

The most recent review of all existing international social and environmental safeguards for hydropower projects ("Watered down?", Skinner and Haas 2014) concludes that "[...] the HSAP represents the best currently available measuring stick for respect for WCD provisions in individual projects." (p.44)


Download all documents relating to the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol

"Watered down? A review of social and environmental safeguards for large dam projects". Jamie Skinner and Lawrence J. Haas, IIED 2014

Further Information