China recently announced plans to invest $635 billion in water infrastructure over the next 10 years, prompting criticism about the effect of China’s water policy on its downstream neighbors. Scott Moore, a doctoral research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School of Government researching sustainable energy development in China, explained the context and possible consequences of the plan in an email interview.
WPR: What is the context of China's recent announcement of plans to dramatically expand its hydropower capacity over the next few years?
Scott Moore: Three factors frame China's recent plans to expand its hydropower capacity. The first and most important is sheer demand: China needs to expand energy sources of all kinds in order to keep up with increases in demand as a result of rapid economic growth. Second, hydropower is particularly attractive because it advances two other policy objectives, namely energy security and de-carbonization in line with China's existing policies to reduce the contribution of fossil fuels to its overall energy mix. These objectives interact, but energy security is the more important of the two. Third, the recently announced hydropower projects are in relatively undeveloped parts of China, and they are calculated to advance regional economic development and poverty reduction goals by providing relatively cheap power for industrial development and urbanization. It's worth noting that many of these regions are also relatively restive and populated by ethnic minorities, so there is also an underlying social stability aspect to these regional development objectives.