Climate: hydroelectricity production in crisis “because of global warming”

Recurring droughts, intensified by global warming, are reducing the quantity of water available in dams.

According to a report from the International Energy Agency published Friday March 1, electricity production from hydraulic sources has therefore also declined, meaning that CO2 emissions in the energy sector are increasing.

The Paso Severino Dam, completely dry and unusable due to lack of water, in Florida, Uruguay, Tuesday, July 4, 2023. Like many regions in the world, the South American country has experienced its most severe drought for 44 years.

© Matilde Campodonico / AP

By: Justine Fontaine Follow


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CO2 emissions

linked to the energy sector have increased further in 2023

, the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced this Friday, March 1,

in a new report published on March 1


This increase is less strong than in 2022.

But the results could have been much better without the production deficit recorded by hydroelectric dams, affected by droughts.

Indeed, if electricity production from dams had remained stable between 2022 and 2023, CO2 emissions from the energy sector around the world would have even fallen, underlines the agency.

Hydroelectricity is in crisis “ 

because of global warming

 ,” explains Jacques Percebois, professor emeritus at the University of Montpellier, in the south of France.


Circumstantial elements, such as

[the climatic phenomenon]

El Niño, also play a role

,” he explains, “

but overall, we expect that global warming will make problems

 ” of oil production more and more frequent.


This is explained in particular by the lack of snow: “ 

Who says less snowfall, says less melting of this snow in spring to feed the rivers.

The Colorado River

, for example, in the United States, is experiencing significant difficulties


In Europe, the flow of the Rhône has fallen by around 6% in the space of 50 years

, he lists.

Things are not going to improve, and this will pose problems for the use of water in electricity production.

Especially since we must not forget that part of the water is also used for agriculture.

There will be more conflicts of use between agriculture and hydroelectricity production

 ,” estimates Jacques Percebois.

Global CO2 emissions from energy rose less in 2023 than the year before even as total energy demand growth accelerated

The major expansion of technologies like solar, wind & EVs is limiting the increase in emissions & bringing them closer to a peak

More: https://

— Fatih Birol (@fbirol) March 1, 2024

China no longer trusts dams

The effects of climate change on hydroelectricity production are felt on all continents but were particularly strong in India last year, where “ 

less heavy monsoon rains increased electricity demand and reduced hydroelectric production

 ” , points out the IEA report.

Above all, in China, “ 

a historically bad year for dams contributed to around a third of the country's emissions growth in 2023

 ,” adds the agency.

The sector's difficulties date back several years.

During the summers of 2021 and 2022, drought combined with heat waves reduced the production capacity of hydroelectric plants and caused significant power outages in several regions of China.

Since then, regional authorities in particular have considered that “ 

hydroelectricity risks being less reliable

 ,” notes Jacques Percebois.

This pushed them to

approve the construction of numerous new coal-fired power plants

which, even new ones, are particularly emitting CO2.

Even if China is simultaneously investing enormously in renewable energies, “ 

coal remains the main source of electricity production in the country 

,” recalls the researcher. 

Read alsoHydroelectricity: NGOs and indigenous peoples warn of the impact of dams


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