Lessons from AICCA's work to make electricity generation more climate-resilient in Ecuador
Changes in temperature and average precipitation patterns are widely expected in the Andes, but climate change will not affect every territory in the same way. While in some areas rainfall will increase significantly, in others, periods of drought are set to last longer. In this context, how can a geographically diverse country like Ecuador, which draws 93 percent of its energy from hydroelectricity, face the challenge of managing climate risks and adapting to climate change?
Over the past four years, the Adaptation Project to the Impacts of Climate Change on the Water Resources of the Andes (AICCA), an initiative supported by the Global Environment Facility and Special Climate Change Fund and led by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition (MAATE), has been working to help the country do just this – increasing the climate resilience of the hydroelectric sector and advance the priorities established in its Nationally Determined Contributions.
AICCA is a regional Andean project implemented by CAF – the development bank of Latin America, and CONDESAN - Consortium for the Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion. Its work to promote adaptation to climate change in the hydroelectric sector in Ecuador involved: 1) strengthening of governance mechanisms at different levels, 2) the formulation of public policies incorporating climate risk management based on information generated, and 3) the design and implementation of adaptation measures with the participation of local actors and that reduce social and gender gaps.
Water and energy are fundamental resources that sustain the economic activities and livelihoods of the entire population, in Ecuador and around the world. Linking the integrated management of both resources within the Andean country’s hydro-energy sector, while incorporating climate risk management, has required multi-sector and inter-institutional work.
One of the first steps, facilitated by AICCA, was the creation of a National Technical Committee, jointly led by MAATE and the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, and with representation of related actors such as the Electricity Corporation of Ecuador (CELEC EP), the National Electricity Operator (CENACE), the Energy Regulation and Control Agency (ARC), the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (INAMHI), and the Electro Generator of Austro (ELECAUSTRO), among others.
The creation of this technical group was an essential part of the national strategy to strengthen climate resilience capacities. Courses and workshops helped facilitate informed dialogue between people working in this area. In addition, these sessions helped local and industry leaders share their knowledge about climate threats, informing decisions about sectoral planning and public policy design to incorporate risk management within the framework of climate change.
Additionally, to generate concrete and useful lessons that could be replicated in other territories across the country, the AICCA project focused on two basins in which small- and medium-scale hydroelectric plants are installed, and which face different climatic threats. The Victoria River basin in Napo suffers the threat of increased extreme rainfall, which can mean greater sedimentation, as well as landslides and damage to infrastructure. The Machángara River basin in Azuay faces increased periods of drought, which presents a risk of shortage of water resources for electricity generation in the dry season. To strengthen risk resilience in this region, AICCA promoted a landscape approach for the management of water resources, which looks across the socio-ecosystem and addresses the interdependence of various water uses and demands. Furthermore, decentralized participation mechanisms such as multi-stakeholder territorial governance initiatives were strengthened.
AICCA project leaders generated specific climate risk studies for each basin, as well as an analysis of gaps and needs for adaptation, which were shared and discussed in territorial roundtables. Strategic actions were prioritized to manage the risks of electricity generating plants and to improve the ecosystem management approach in support of community resilience. For example, to guarantee hydrological functionality, zones and measures were defined to protect the remnants of natural vegetation in the highlands. In Napo, this involved updating the management plan of a national protected area to incorporate climate change criteria. In Azuay, fencing was installed in areas of biological and water importance, following an analysis carried out at the landscape level.
To reduce pressures on the ecosystems and the vulnerability of people living around the basin, the AICCA project brought in multiple adaptation measures linked to livelihoods. For example, infrastructure for under-cover cultivation with efficient irrigation systems was incorporated, livestock intensification was supported in the most suitable areas, and community microcredit mechanisms were established to support climate-smart farm improvements. These actions were coordinated with local and national government authorities, such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, to provide continuous technical support and to facilitate access to sustainable markets.
In alliance with the parish governments, one of the most important social gaps in rural Ecuador was addressed: safe access to drinking water. Through the AICCA project, improvements were made to the drinking water systems of two parishes, benefiting more than 2,000 people. In this way, communities that contribute to the conservation of areas of water importance for Ecuador's main cities are also benefiting from safer access to the clean, abundant local water sources.
There are three major lessons from AICCA’s work with the hydroelectric sector in Ecuador. First, the need to understand the impacts of climate change from many perspectives spanning multiple sectors. The experience in the hydroelectric sector can be replicated in other strategic sectors such as agriculture. Second, risk management for hydroelectric generation cannot be addressed in isolation, without joint work with the other water users in the basin. Third, adaptation to climate change in relation to water resources needs to begin with responding to the socioeconomic needs of local communities, since the sustainable management of water requires their engagement and investment in the health of the ecosystems in which they live. The need to work in a collaborative, participatory way to address the shared challenge of climate change has never been clearer.