An increase in power demand, volatile prices in international energy markets and concerns over carbon emissions have intensified interest in hydropower development – the Mekong’s indigenous renewable energy resource.
The debate on hydropower development in the Lower Mekong Basin is however, an emotive topic. Perspectives range from a moratorium on all projects to a green light for development to boost national economic growth. And because some large hydropower projects in the Lower Mekong export their electricity, governments see these potential earnings from hydropower development as a means for reducing poverty, lowering national debts, as well as achieving regional economic prosperity and energy security.
Over the past decade, the Mekong has arrived at a crossroads – whereas hydropower presents great economic and energy gains, at the same time, concerns have intensified over the potential cumulative impacts proposed schemes have on the environment, fisheries and people’s livelihoods in the Lower Mekong Basin.
To avoid transboundary impacts, the MRC is exploring sustainable options to hydropower development. Sustainable hydropower development moves away from narrowly approaching infrastructure as a way to meet the growing needs of energy services and focuses on thinking about the overall effectiveness of projects within a basin-wide perspective.
At present, only 10 percent of the estimated hydroelectric potential in the Lower Mekong Basin is developed. How Mekong countries decide to pursue future hydropower development is perhaps one of the most challenging strategic decisions they have faced since the signing of the 1995 Mekong Agreement. It is important that Member Countries work together to balance sustainability with development opportunities.
In response to this dynamic situation, the MRC focuses on advancing regional cooperation for the sustainable management of the growing number of hydropower projects from a river basin management perspective. This includes drawing effectively on international experiences, developing regional technical knowledge and sharing best practices relevant to all stages of planning.
The MRC is working with Member Countries on hydropower development strategies and policies, coordinated and integrated impact assessments, and consistent and fair mitigation measures.
Over the past several years, the MRC has conducted substantial research, monitoring, and modelling relevant to hydropower development. The Commission coordinates and integrate its hydropower-related activities into many of its projects.
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GUIDANCE FOR DAM DESIGN: The Preliminary Design Guidance provides a transboundary and international best practice approach to designing mainstream Mekong hydropower schemes. Read more under: Preliminary Design Guidance for Proposed Mainstream Dams in the Lower Mekong Basin (PDG2009)