The new great walls: a guide to China's overseas dam industry

Hydropower plays a key role in providing electricity in many countries around the world.  Not only do countries such as Namibia, Tajikistan and Zambia generate almost all of their electricity from hydro but also more developed economies such as Norway and Brazil.  As a renewable, low-emission resource, hydropower has the potential to help many places make a clean leap.  Hydro isn’t without its issues, however, and a poorly implemented project can have devastating impacts on the local environment and communities.  We therefore think hydropower is a good way to make a CleanLeap, but appropriate safeguards and standards must be followed.

In the rollout of new hydropower projects around the world no one is playing a bigger role than China.  5 of the 10 biggest hydroelectric power stations in the world are in China and Chinese companies are working on hundreds of projects in other countries.  The role China is playing doesn’t just apply to engineering, Chinese banks are filling the gap of traditional funders such as the World Bank.  There are few areas more transformative in energy and climate security today than what China is doing with hydropower.

To get a quick understanding of the work China is doing, this report from International Rivers is a good place to start.  It provides an overview of projects with Chinese involvement, the key players and the practices they are following.  The projects listed that include Chinese involvement notably includes eight projects in Myanmar including the 7.1 GW Tasang Dam, the 7.1 GW Sambor Dam in Cambodia, the 7.1 GW Bunji Dam in Pakistan and the 1.87 GW Gibe III project in Ethiopia.

Why this report matters for countries making a Cleanleap

This report is most relevant for those that want to get involved at the NGO level or even in grassroots campaigns as individuals and includes recommendations on how to positively influence development of projects that Chinese companies are involved with.   As you’ll see, hydropower over the next few decades will be influenced by China in a major way and its impacting many of our Cleanleap countries.  If its companies can follow good practices in terms of development it will helping many countries take a Cleanleap.  If not, we run the risk of trading off energy and protection of the global climate at the cost of significant damages at the local level.