From: Alison Singer, Worldwatch Institute, More from this Affiliate
Published October 4, 2013 12:40 PM

China's Dam Environmental Problem

Although the Chinese government has acknowledged the extensive environmental issues resulting from the Three Gorges Dam, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has given the green light for construction for another massive hydro project.


As the global leader in hydropower, China must adopt environmental policies that account for methane and carbon emissions as well as ecosystem disruptions and erosion potential.

Taking the lead in financing and building hydroelectric infrastructure in Southeast Asia, while also implementing domestic dam projects, China has funneled a vast amount of money into projects in Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar, as well as developing extensive systems of dams in its own waters. But while dams can provide relatively cheap, clean energy (hydroelectric power provides almost 20 percent of the world’s electricity, more than any other alternative energy source), the associated ecosystem destruction and human relocation issues have triggered protests and concerns across China.

A new study by the Bertelsmann Foundation's Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) project reported that the majority of countries in the region, including China, have introduced substantial regulatory measures aimed at strengthening environmental impact assessment and planning capacities. Indeed, due to internal and external pressures, China has become apparently more focused on environmental issues. China introduced environmental assessment legislation in 2002, and increased investment in green technology by 18 percent in 2011.

However, despite making headway in its resource efficiency as it introduces cleaner technologies, China still lags behind many of its Asian counterparts. Although efforts to reduce emissions and utilize alternative energy resources are promising, the rapid development of nations like China demands massive increases in energy, construction, and resultant emissions. Indeed, China appears to be increasing its per capita CO2 emissions. The SGI experts hold that China's environmental policy has largely failed to protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.

The Three Gorges Dam in China, for example, displaced over 1 million people, flooded hundreds of towns and villages, and is full of industrial pollution from upstream sources, as well as pollutants from the submerged mines, dumps and factories. Scientists are also concerned about increased seismic activity, erosion, and the exacerbation of drought conditions resulting from the reservoir and its new microclimate.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Worldwatch Institute.

Three Gorges Dam image via Shutterstock. 

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