True Cost of Hydropower in China

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China has committed to a massive reduction of its carbon emissions, which will almost certainly lead to dramatic reduction in coal power production. Dam builders and energy planners propose the construction of new hydropower dams on China’s rivers at unprecedented levels in order to reach these targets. Important Chinese and international civil society organizations working on climate change are supporting this approach. International Rivers has released a new report on the True Cost of Hydropower in China exploring assumptions that large hydropower must be developed to underwrite China’s low-carbon transition. In addition to reviewing the huge social and environmental costs of hydropower development in China, we explore the implications of hydropower’s significant seasonal variability and show that it is possible to come up with new energy transition pathways that protect China’s valuable south-west rivers. 

The True Cost of Hydropower report demonstrates that it is possible for China to reduce its carbon emissions without increased hydropower exploitation. Supported by the Energy Transition Research Institute (ENTRI), the report presents an electricity sector development model for China which only allows for a very limited increase in hydropower generation to conserve China’s magnificent south-west rivers. The ENTRI model shows that with ambitious investments in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, the country can massively reduce carbon emissions, protect its rivers and reduce economic costs at the same time.

China does not need to sacrifice her arteries to save her lungs. With further study and analysis, more ways to protect China’s freshwater ecosystems through energy planning scenarios can be unleashed.