The Swedish Multi-stakeholder Dialogue on the WCD Recommendations

Fivasenglish, Vannkraft, World Commission of Dams

Göran Ek

Sweden played a significant role in the success of the WCD initiative, providing important financial support as the third largest donor. Various Swedish stakeholders monitored and participated in the proceedings of the Commission. After the launch of the WCD report, only four of the Swedish stakeholders declared their support for the WCD recommendations: Sida, the national agency for development cooperation; construction company Skanska; and the NGOs, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) and WWF Sweden. The remaining parties – other industrial concerns, the national Export Credit Agency (EKN), government ministries, and banks – either took a “non-position” or held contradictory views to the four stakeholders that welcomed the report.

Lack of coherence

This meant that a difficult situation had arisen because of a lack of coherence among crucial stakeholders on the momentous issue on what regulatory frameworks should guide Swedish involvement in and support for dam building and other large-scale infrastructure in the developing world.

Following a moratorium on domestic construction of large dams, declared by the Swedish parliament in 1987, no new dams have been built in Sweden. However, Swedish engineering companies and consultancies are frequently awarded contracts for dam building in developing countries, and Sida and EKN provide financing for water infrastructure projects abroad.

One example of the lack of coherence was when EKN was ready to provide guarantees to the Ugandan government in 2002 in support of the controversial Bujagali dam project. Sida rejected a proposal to give bilateral aid to the very same project on the basis that it was not compliant with Sida’s position on the WCD recommendations. There were many other examples of this lack of common standards and fears of a ”race to the bottom” situation arose. Future recipients of Swedish support for dam building could “shop around” among different agencies and companies to find out who had the “lowest” WCD standards and would accept a project proposal that those with a higher level of WCD compliance would not have accepted.

Creation of the dialogue

The lack of coherence among Swedish stakeholders and disagreement in government as to which ministry should be responsible for implementation meant that a “window of opportunity” opened for NGOs to get a dialogue started to create a common Swedish position on the WCD recommendations.

Several seminars were organized by SSNC and WWF Sweden on the WCD report and a recurring theme at these were presentations of successful national dialogues from other countries. At the very last seminar in March 2004 the Swedish minister for the environment, Lena Sommestad, expressed her support for the creation of a Swedish multi-stakeholder dialogue on the WCD recommendations, according to a proposal put forward by SSNC and WWF. Swedish Water House (, funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Sustainable Development, was selected as a neutral facilitator. In May 2004 the first meeting of the multi-stakeholder dialogue was organized.

Fine-tuning WCD

The overarching purpose of this process was to establish criteria that could assist actors to identify which dams and other large-scale water infrastructure could be considered ecologically, socially or economically unsustainable and thus also form the basis to determine if future Swedish involvement in such projects is appropriate or not. The dialogue has never intended to copy or correct the WCD’s immense efforts but to ”fine-tune” and adapt the already existing recommen­dations to the context within which Swedish stakeholders work and hence make the guidelines more relevant and useful.

During the process the following were also discussed:

· The positions of the main Swedish stakeholders on the WCD report and how the WCD recommendations have influenced their strategies and policies;

· ”Gaps” – among the stakeholders’ positions and in relation to the Swedish policy for global development.

15 different stakeholders representing industry, government, academia and NGOs were identified and invited to participate in the dialogue by an independent consultant – hired by the Swedish Water House, the dialogue’s facilitator.

After the facilitator had solicited the participants’ expectations of the dialogue, a work plan was presented to and accepted by the group. The first of a series of monthly meetings was then called where procedures for the dialogue were agreed upon. It was agreed that the world famous Chatham House Rule should be adhered to in order to encourage openness and the sharing of information. According to this, “when a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed”. This enabled the discussions to be conducted in an open and friendly atmosphere and that differing opinions could eventually amalgamate into consensus. Consensus was an over-arching goal of the entire dialogue. Should we present different opinions on the validity of the WCD recommendations, nothing would be gained from this process and we would be back to “square one.”


The stakeholder dialogue process consisted of both restricted working group meetings, but also open seminars and hearings. The eventual outcome of the dialogue is a 16 –page document where all stakeholders declare their commitment to the WCD findings. For each of the seven strategic priorities suggested by WCD, the Swedish multi-stakeholder dialogue has agreed on a set of recommendations – 25 altogether – as how to implement the aims and goals by Swedish stakeholders. This means that we substitute the 26 WCD guidelines – but not the “spirit” of these – with recommendations in order to make the WCD findings more relevant to Swedish involvement in construction and financing of large-scale water infrastructure.

After processing by an editorial committee, elected by the stakeholders, the document was formerly accepted by all participants of the dialogue in September 2005 and signed by all. The finalized document will be published with an attractive layout and presented to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Environment in December 2005 (se boks).

As already mentioned, the document is based on a common understanding between Swedish stakeholders on how to assure that their involvement in future construction of large-scale infrastructure is done in a sustainable way and also will help poverty alleviation. It is therefore hoped that the recommendations included will form an important work of reference for industry and financial institutions wishing to upgrade their sustainability policies as well as provide ideas on how to improve the legal systems guiding Sweden’s development aid in this crucial sector.

Göran Ek jobber for Svenska Naturskyddsföreningens internationella avdelning i Stockholm.