Bern Convention demands Bosnia-Herzegovina to stop all dam projects on Neretva River

On 2nd December, the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention (Convention on the Conservation of European Wild Flora and Fauna and Natural Habitats), decided to open a case-file against Bosnia-Herzegovina demanding to stop all hydropower plants in the Neretva River system and to establish protected areas, instead.

Free flowing river in the Balkans

The unique upper reaches of the Neretva River in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here, 7 hydroelectric power plants are planned, which would not only destroy the river, but also the ancient beech forests.

© Vladimir Tadic
Construction site Hydro power plant

The Ulog dam, currently under construction, will impact the entire Upper Neretva landscape and its biodiversity.

© Vladimir Tadic

Several large and small hydropower projects along the upper reaches of the Neretva are threatening to destroy one of Europe’s most precious and valuable river systems. Several fish species such as Adriatic trout, Soft-mouth trout, and Marble trout are at risk if these projects become reality.

In this year’s annual meeting in Strasbourg, France from November 28th to December 2nd, the Standing Committee discussed the complaint submitted by several national and international NGOs in 2020. Following the complaint, the Bern Convention carried out a so-called On the Spot Appraisal (OSA) by the independent expert Dr Gregory Egger (Austria) in October this year. In their meeting today, the members of the Standing Committee agreed to demand from Bosnia-Herzegovina to halt all hydropower projects and declare large parts as protected areas, instead.

In detail (excerpt): The Standing Committee recommends (p.49-50) to the Government of BiH to:
1. Halt the construction of the hydropower plant Ulog
2. Prohibit implementation of the hydro-electric system Gornja Neretva (…) and cancel the granted concessions, due to the profound negative impact….Remove the concerned projects from the Spatial plan.
3. Officially declare “Gornji tok Neretve” (Upper Neretva) as an adopted Emerald Network site;
4. Prohibit implementation of the currently dormant hydropower plant projects Glavatičevo and Bjelimići. Remove the concerned projects from the Spatial plan.
5. Concerning planned hydropower plants along the Upper Neretva tributaries, halt all planning and permitting of the projects until the area is officially declared as an adopted Emerald Network site.
6. Implement a ban on development of further hydropower plants in the candidate Emerald Network site… and all other candidate Emerald sites in the Neretva River basin…

“The opening of the case is a truly important precedent and a big step for our country in relation to the more efficient implementation of the Bern Convention”, points out Emina Veljović, executive director of the Aarhus Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the complainants.

“The Neretva is one of the most valuable river systems we have left in Europe. The number of rare and threatened species is not even fully known. However, more than 70 hydropower projects are threatening the Neretva and its tributaries, making this river system also the continent’s most threatened river. The decision of the Bern Convention is a big support for our aim to save this river”, says Ulrich Eichelmann from Riverwatch.

“We expect the competent decision-makers in Bosnia and Herzegovina to be guided by the recommendations adopted by the Council of Europe and to implement them without delay”, concludes Redžib Skomorac, legal adviser at the Center for Environment in BiH.

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