Hydropower and climate change

Here’s where it gets even trickier to monitor the actions of the dam industry. With the focus on climate change and finding sources of renewable energy, hydropower has charged ahead as energy source of choice.

The hydropower industry seized its position at the top of the renewable energy sector and secured substantial resources through the Kyoto Clean Development Mechanism. Driving this was the need for renewable energy — but we believe that other, more sustainable development models must be encouraged.

Claims that hydropower is good for the climate are of real concern. Dams once considered to pose an unjustifiable social and environmental risk are now perceived as justifiable from a climate-change perspective. Oxfam is working closely with other non-government and independent organisations to ensure that the need for sustainable development and renewable energy is not manipulated by commercial interests.

How is climate change affecting the Mekong region?

Climate change’s impacts are manifesting in the Mekong in several ways:

  • changing rainfall patterns, which could increase the risk of flooding in some areas and affect agriculture
  • increasingly severe and frequent extreme weather events, such as 2009’s Typhoon Ketsana, which caused severe flooding, damage and loss of life, and resulted in forced dam releases which led to higher flood levels and transboundary impacts
  • heightened risk of temperature extremes (both hot and cold) in different parts of the basin. This could increase the likelihood of drought, impacting on farmers in what are already poor areas
  • rising sea level of up to one metre are predicted, making the Mekong Delta one of the five most vulnerable deltas in the world. If salinity and inundation were to increase there could be significant displacement of people and migration into urban areas such as Ho Chi Minh City. Some estimates suggest that more than one of every 10 delta residents could be displaced
  • salt water encroachments into the delta (higher sea level, reduced flows from Mekong) are likely to be exacerbated by hydropower dams
  • altered flow of the river and tributaries, influencing fish migration patterns, run-off and alluvial deposits

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