Milestone bank summit in Belgrade a step towards protecting Balkan rivers

++ Greater transparency still needed ++

The Morača in Montenegro is one of the last refuges for endangered fish species. However, the river is threatened by multiple hydropower projects. © Shutterstock/Sergey LyashenBelgrade, March 1, 2019 – The ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’ campaign gave a cautious welcome to a first-of-its-kind summit between the financial sector and green activists, where a roundtable about the role of banks in the destruction of Balkan rivers by hydropower dams was centre stage.

The bank summit was initiated by the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Save the Blue Heart campaign in order to discuss the sensitive issue of hydropower development in the Balkans. Representatives from some of Europe's largest commercial lenders, including UniCredit, Erste Groupe and Societe Generale, attended the summit.

The discussion explored how these financial institutions could start providing timely information to the public about the likely environmental and social impacts of their loans for hydropower projects in order to avoid the destruction of the pristine rivers of the Balkans, some of Europe’s last wild waterways.

About 3,000 hydropower plants are projected on the Balkan Peninsula. Their construction would destroy the „Blue Heart of Europe“. Source: FluviusA lack of transparency has plagued a number of investments across the region where rivers have been impounded, dried out important species and habitats have been lost, and local communities have confronted project developers over their loss of livelihoods.

The Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign is calling on banks to immediately stop funding for projects that are located in protected areas and other valuable river stretches, apply more stringent green conditions to loans in the sector and increase funding for energy efficiency and other renewable energy sources, whose potential in the region remains largely untapped (see Balkan Rivers Eco-Masterplan).

The Belgrade summit follows public pressure in 2018 when more than 120 000 people sent the EBRD the largest ever public petition on energy issues to drop funding for hydropower projects planned in protected areas of the Balkans. One of the largest financiers of hydropower projects in the Balkans, the EBRD has financed 61 hydropower projects in the region, where up to 3 000 potential projects have been identified (see Bankwatch report).

Igor Vejnovic, hydropower coordinator for CEE Bankwatch Network, said: “Transparency is a cornerstone of democracy and environmentally and socially-responsible investment. Without it, banks expose themselves to legal and reputational risk. So today’s meeting is a sign that financial institutions are willing to listen, but the question remains if they will act to protect the rivers and communities of the Balkans.”

Gabriel Schwaderer, CEO of EuroNatur, said: “The destruction of the beautiful Balkan rivers by hydropower would not only be ecologically devastating, but also nonsense in regards to energy politics. A transformation of the entire energy policy is urgently required: reduction of energy consumption, increase of energy efficiency, reduction of major energy losses and investment in solar and wind instead of hydropower.”

Ulrich Eichelmann, CEO of Riverwatch: “Within the last two years, we have assessed the ecological value of the Balkan rivers in detail. The outcome is a spatial plan that defines no-go areas for new hydropower plants, the so-called “Eco-Masterplan for the Balkan Rivers”. The result is proof that this river network is without par in Europe: 76 per cent of the rivers are of such high value that they qualify as no-go zones. The banks must stop the funding of hydropower in these areas.”

 

Background information

  • This is a joint press release by Bankwatch, Riverwatch and EuroNatur
  • The ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’ campaign is an initiative of nongovernmental organisations EuroNatur and Riverwatch, together with green groups from southeast Europe, Bankwatch and activist company Patagonia in order to save the pristine rivers of the Balkan from destruction brought by dams and diversions. https://www.balkanrivers.net/
  • Find more information in the Bankwatch report Financing for hydropower in protected areas in Southeast Europe: 2018 update

 

Contacts

Igor Vejnovic, Hydropower Coordinator - CEE Bankwatch Network - igor.vejnovic@bankwatch.org - +420 777 995 515

Anja Arning, Head of Public Relations - EuroNatur - anja.arning@euronatur.org - +49 (0)7732 - 927213

Ulrich Eichelmann - CEO, Riverwatch - ulrich.eichelmann@riverwatch.eu - +43 676 6621512