China’s intensified hydropower development plans during the 12FYP, particularly those in Southwest China, need to be reviewed and reconsidered because they run large risks that can have long-term irreversible impact on the nation’s security, competitiveness, ecology and people’s livelihood. Ostensibly, the reason for intensification is to switch China’s fuel mix away from coal dominant to more renewable sources, with hydropower playing the largest share, so as to reduce the nation’s carbon emissions.
Civic Exchange’s latest report, Risks of Intensification of Hydropower Development in Southwestern China, shows a range of risks that have not been properly assessed. Switching away from fossil fuel is important but the report emphasizes large hydro dams in unsuitable regions, especially the Nu River in Southwest, is not the way forward.
The Southwest region is still geologically active. The construction of large dams may trigger earth movements with major negative impacts. Should tectonic movements affect the dams, this could lead to even further damage with huge consequence.
Damming major rivers in Southwest China is already causing international conflicts with Southeast Asian neighbours, and further dams could lead to even greater problems. Beyond the international relations front, major dams also require relocation of communities consisting of many minorities in the Southwest. Past relocation showed that after relocation, many people's livelihood have not necessarily improved. Promised compensations have not always been paid, igniting local anger, which works against the social harmony the Chinese Government wants to engender.
There are also major ecological problems. Rivers are the lifeblood of China. Damming rivers can “kill” the rivers, such as creating dead lakes, and ruining forever ecosystems and biodiversity that sustains ecosystems services humans depend on. Christine Loh, CEO of Civic Exchange, explains her worry: “It is quick and easy to ruin the sensitive and unique ecosystems of the Southwest, such as Yunnan’s Three Parallel Rivers Protected Area, a UNESCO Heritage Site, but it can never be restored in many life times. The new large hydro projects need to be reconsidered urgently”.
Liu Su, the author of the report, proposes a range of solutions:
– Update energy goals and hydropower’s role
– Improve water resource management
– Establish national strategic water and ecological resource reserve zones
– Establish a national ecological development special administrative zone
– Rationalize the approval authority for hydropower projects
– Restructure electricity price
– Investigate hydropower relocation issues
– Investigate the geological consequences associated with hydropower projects
– Publicize geological risk evaluation reports
– Publicize environmental assessment reports associated with large scale projects
– Protect the integrity of the national-level rare fish protection zone
– Set up public hearing mechanism