A Critical Analysis Of The Strategic Environmental Assessment Of Hydropower On The Mekong Mainstream

2358 words - 10 pages

Background:

Hydropower is considered by some to be one of the best tools we currently have to produce clean energy, but at what cost? Since the 1960s, government and private sector interest in the production of several hydropower schemes in the Lower Mekong River’s mainstream has increased. More recently, a plan prepared by the Mekong Secretariat in 1994 was abandoned after public objection to the plan due to estimated effects on the river’s fisheries and the considerable number of people that would be adversely affected by the plans.
After this, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) signed a document in 1995 named the Mekong Agreement, which requires projects to be discussed amongst the ...view middle of the document...

60 line agencies, 40 Non Governmental Agencies and 20 international development organisations were also consulted during the process. The project spanned 16 months up to September 2010 and provided a report coupled with recommendations. The SEA focuses on regional distribution of costs and benefits with respect to economic development, social equality and environmental protection.
It is projected that power demand will increase by up to 7% per year between 2010 and 2030 resulting in a lucrative energy market and consequently heightened demand for hydropower in the LMB (ICEM, 2010). These predictions have resulted in the proposal to erect 12 hydropower dams with in the LMB, 10 of which would span the entire river channel.
• 8 within Laos
• 2 near the Laos/ Thailand border
• 2 in Cambodia
• 2 Partial damming projects in Laos.
Prior to the SEA, projects would proceed at a national level without regard for a development plan for the river in its entirety. Each of the LMB countries are now under the Mekong Agreement set up in 1995 to ensure all parties cooperate in a “constructive and mutually beneficial manner for sustainable development, utilisation, conservation and management of the Mekong River Basin”. This means, each country is required to notify their fellow countries about any proposals and reach agreement on whether they should proceed.

The proposal of 12 damming projects around a similar time led the LMB countries to call for an SEA to be conducted. The construction of hydropower dams on the LMB is the single biggest decision for the four MRC member countries since the signing of the agreement (Soussan 2009).

Below are the steps in the SEA process:

1) Scoping (June - Sep 2009)
• Most important issues relating to development and conservation of the Mekong
• The prioritisation & categorisation of the above issues

2) Baseline Assessment (June - Sep 2009)
• Past trends for identified key issues
• Trends as projected to 2030

3) Impact Assessment (Feb - May 2010)
• Will the project affect the above identified trends?
• What are the costs/benefits?
• What affect will the impacts have on sustainability?

4) Avoidance & Mitigation (May - July 2010)
• How will the risks be avoided?
• How will any risks that cannot be avoided be reduced?
• How will the benefits be enhanced?

About the Mekong River Basin

The Mekong River Basin, the largest inland fishery in the world, is under threat from multiple hydropower developments (Ziv et al., 2012). The Mekong River is the only river on this planet to flow openly through five of 6 riparian countries; Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is also one of the least dammed of all the world’s largest rivers (ICEM, 2010). Since the damming of the upper Mekong reaches by China, countries situated in the lower Mekong basin (LMB) have showed interest in similar projects. This interest is driven by the economic success of China’s dams coupled with increased private sector investment....

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