Tuesday, August 24, 2010
China's dams have been plagued by environmental catastrophes, civil unrest
and billions of dollars in cost overruns, causing officials to slow down
their break-neck dam construction plans, for a time.
But now, according to reports from state media, with public relations
targets for renewable energy projects to meet, China is gearing up to
expedite approvals for hydro projects in the second half of this year. Two
of the country's big five power companies, Huaneng and Huadian—parents of
Huaneng Power International and Huadian Power—were recently granted
environmental clearances for dams that they were previously forced to put
According to state media, the dams— Jin'anqiao in Yunnan and Zangmushui in
Tibet—were the first approvals in more than two years.
"It seems the central government's attitude towards hydropower has warmed
again. It's expected to speed up approvals," said an official with China
Society for Hydropower Engineering.
Whether or not the government's slowdown on approvals led to a slowdown in
construction is debatable. A number of reports suggest that construction
on dams has continued for years, despite not receiving approvals from the
The Jin'anqiao dam—one of eight dams planned for the middle Jinsha—began
construction in 2004 without approval from the central government. Only
after media outlets began reporting on its unauthorized construction did
government officials begin an investigation.
In April of 2009, Liu Jianxiang, a leading Chinese environmentalist and
journalist, and a group of citizens, including NGOs, journalists, local
entrepreneurs and farmers, organized a tour to investigate the middle
Jinsha, where the Jin'anqiao dam is located.
"We discovered several hydropower stations being constructed illegally,"
he said. "At the Liyuan dam site we found waste produced by construction
activities discharging into the river without treatment, and the river
water seriously polluted.
Construction on other dams, including the Ludila and Longkaikou—also both
on the Jinsha River—has also proceeded, without receiving the necessary
approval from central government officials and undergoing proper
environmental assessments. Last year, after China's environment ministry
called for construction on the dams to be halted until proper
environmental studies were conducted, citizens groups issued photos
showing that construction was continuing.
Meanwhile, China's enthusiasm for hydro dams abroad has only accelerated
to the point where China is today the world's largest funder of
dams—surpassing even the World Bank. And, like its domestic projects, many
of the dams China is pursuing overseas are highly contentious—often
involving the destruction of sensitive habitats and the displacement of
thousands of people.
According to a report from Survival International, China's Three Gorges
Project Corporation, builder of the controversial Three Gorges is
contracted to build a dam on the land of the Penan tribe in Sarawak, while
China's biggest state bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China,
is considering funding Gibe III in Ethiopia, which is expected to be
Africa's tallest dam and will destroy the livelihood of at least eight
And according to International Rivers, Chinese banks and companies are
involved in the construction of 216 large dams in 49 different
countries—with their strongest foothold in Africa and Southeast Asia.
China's ambitions for hydro development at home have also been spurred on
by the United Nation's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a supposed
market-based tool that issues carbon credits to hydro project developers
in the developing world for eschewing carbon based electricity generation.
According to one report, China has proposed at least 763 hydro projects
that are currently being considered for approval by the UN CDM office. By
2012, the report says, these projects will generate more than 300 million
certified emission reductions (CER) which are currently worth as much as
According to Probe International's carbon credit database, China has
already received around 10.5 million carbon credits for more than 80
hydrodam projects. In total, these credits are worth at least
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