Basin-Wide Approach Can Unlock Mekong’s Hydropower Potential

VIENTIANE, Sept. 25 (Sai Gon Giai Phong) About 200 delegates from Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand, Viet Nam and elsewhere started a three-day regional multi-stakeholder consultation on the Mekong River Commission hydropower program on Thursday in Vientiane, where the commission’s Secretariat is based.

The Commission’s consultation process began in Vientiane Thursday (Photo: Tuong Thuy)

“The MRC is in an ideal position to promote dialogue among the various partners in the development and investment process for hydropower in the region,” wrote Mr. Jeremy Bird, chief executive of the Commission’s Secretariat, in an opinion article published in regional newspaper.

According to Mr. Brid, only around 5 percent of the hydropower generation potential in the whole Mekong basin has been realized.

“Integrated into this regional focus is a basin-wide approach to hydropower decision making, where the broad development needs of the Mekong countries are considered whenever a major decision on hydropower is made,” Mr. Bird wrote in the op-ed.

Mr. Bird is one of the key speakers in the Sept. 25-27 consultation, the first of its kind at the Commission.

The participants at the regional conference include senior officials of the governments of Commission members Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam; dialogue partners; representatives of the owners and operators of existing hydropower schemes; developers of hydropower projects; local, regional and global commercial banks and international financial institutions; environmental and social experts; non-government organizations and civil society groups; development partners; professional associations; and research groups.

The Commission’s Joint Committee member for Laos, Mr. Chantavong Saignasith, said during the opening ceremony that hydroelectricity has long been recognized as one of the cleanest, most sustainable and, in the long run, least expensive methods of generating power. Acknowledging that there can be a negative impact associated with hydropower, he said it was therefore important that the Lower Mekong countries were able to study the benefits and costs associated with building dams before making decisions.

According to Mr. Chantavong, the Commission provides decision-makers in the four Lower Mekong countries (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam) with a sound knowledge platform, enabling them to assess the gains and impacts of each hydropower proposal in a basin-wide context. This includes scientific input from many different fields and sources across the Mekong region and beyond, from village-level fisheries research to international navigation experience.

Mr. Bird is scheduled to announce the outcome of the consultation at the end of Sept. 27 after five sessions are finished. Session 1 is about the commission’s role in hydropower development in the Mekong basin. (The 4,800 km-long Mekong River runs through China’s Yunnan Province, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam.

Participants look at a map of existing, under construction, planned and proposed hydropower projects in the Lower Mekong Basin (Photo: Tuong Thuy)

Session 2 is about hydro potential and development, national and regional perspectives. Representatives of the four Commission member states will deliver their addresses. Meanwhile, lessons for sustainable hydropower development plan from around the world will be the topic of Session 3. The third session will hear lessons from management of the Columbia River System in the U.S., the World Wildlife Fund’s partnership in the Yangtze Forum (China), and hydropower and navigation development on the Rhone River System in Europe.

Session 4 will be about innovative policy instruments, and challenges for implementation. Session will cover finance and incentives for sustainability.

The Commission was formed in 1995 by an agreement between the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam. It is an international, country-driven river basin organization that provides the institutional framework to promote regional cooperation in order to implement the 1995 Agreement. The Commission serves its member states by supporting decisions and promoting action on sustainable development and poverty alleviation as a contribution to the UN Millennium Development Goals. 

By Tuong Thuy

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