China gives green-light to new era of mega-dams

China will resurrect series of controversial hydropower dams in south-west China on rivers originating on the Tibetan Plateau.

China has confirmed it will resurrect a series of controversial hydropower dams in south-west China on rivers originating on the Tibetan Plateau, causing ripples of consternation from India and other downstream neighbours.

The 2011-2015 energy sector blueprint, released by China’s State Council last week, confirmed  plans to “actively push forward with hydropower development” in the Nu (Salween), Lancang (Mekong) and Yarlung Zangbo (Brahmaputra) river basins – all in ecologically sensitive and seismically active regions of Yunnan province and Tibet; and all along internationally shared rivers.

These plans mark a much anticipated step change in government policy, away from the more cautious approach to dam building in ecologically and seismically sensitive regions of the past decade and towards a bold hydro push.

Wen Jiabao’s tenure as Chinese premier saw a number of projects shelved. Only a third of schemes identified as a priority actually went ahead between 2006 and 2010. But the combination of China’s energy needs, intensive lobbying by major dam builders and electricity companies and ambitious plans to meet low-carbon intensity goals in the 12th Five-Year Plan have opened the way for a fresh round of dam building. Some 120 gigawatts of new hydropower will begin construction by 2015 nationwide, according to the plan.

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