At the Borders of Ecological Destruction

A new year is often a time for joyful celebration. But Pianporn Deetes bid farewell to 2015 with a heavy heart.

“The Administrative Court gave me the most cruel Christmas ever. My spirit was dampened throughout the New Year period,” she said.

Pianporn is remembering her experience listening to the ruling on the Xayaburi Dam on Dec 25. The lawsuit — in which 37 villagers from eight provinces in Thailand affected by the project sued the Energy Ministry and Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand for allegedly signing a power purchase agreement illegally — is a landmark case since it was the first time people have gone to court for environmental and community rights protection from a transborder project championed by the Asean Economic Community (AEC). The dam is now being constructed, with investment from Thailand, on the Mekong River in Laos. When finished, over 90% of electricity from the dam will be sold to Thailand.

Administrative court rules in favour of Egat over Xayaburi Dam

THE Administrative Court Friday dismissed complaints over the Xayaburi Dam against five state agencies. However, the 37 plaintiffs, from eight Mekong provinces, say they will appeal further.

The judge, who read the verdict, said the defendants had fully complied with their obligation according to the law, so the case was dismissed.

PARTNERSHIP IN ACTION Regional governments and civil society journey toward improving public participation

The 25 members represent governments and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from across the region. They have tasked themselves with drafting public participation guidelines to ensure communities and citizens have input into development projects such as dams, mines, transportation links or economic zones. Through drafting a regional standard on participation in EIA, the group hopes countries across the region will improve public involvement in the decision-making process.

Getting 10 civil society organisations, five governments and an array of ministries to agree on one set of guidelines will be hard. But the members are up for the challenge. They have a lot to teach each other. And are eager to learn from experiences in other countries and sectors.

We talked to a few members of the RTWG during their first official meeting in Bangkok in September to see how they felt about this challenging but exciting opportunity. Their video interviews are below.

My country, Thailand, hosted this kick-off meeting, and two of Thailand’s five members are Mr. Suphakij Nuntavorakarn, Healthy Public Policy Foundation and Ms. Chanakod Chasidpon, Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) of the Thai government.

Ecological trade-offs

Hydroelectric dams grace bank notes in developing countries, from Mozambique to Laos, Kyrgyzstan to Sri Lanka, a place of honor reflecting their reputation as harbingers of prosperity. That esteem, now enhanced by hydropower’s presumed low-carbon profile, continues to overrule concerns about environmental consequences and displaced people, as evidenced by a surge in dam-building in the developing world.

A recent paper in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests a seemingly obvious, yet novel approach: Bring in aquatic scientists at the beginning so that engineers can consider ecological principles first, not last. The paper came out of meetings organised by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2013. Engineers and aquatic scientists discussed their core requirements for a hypothetical case study of the Iowa River in the United States.

Report: Economic, Environmental and Social Impacts of Hydropower Development in the Lower Mekong Basin

The Mekong River is the largest freshwater fishery in the world (estimated fish catch 2.1 to 2.5 million tons/year) and the third most bio-diverse river system (with approximately 800 fish species) after the Amazon and the Congo. However, this would change drastically if all proposed hydropower projects are constructed as fish migration routes would be blocked.

This paper focuses on potential economic consequences and is based on the Costanza report which in turn used much of the data, assumptions and projections reported in BDP2 and SEA. The main differences between the Costanza report and BDP2 were the estimated fish value, valuation of ecosystem services and discount rates for natural capital such as capture fisheries and wetlands.

South Korea and Laos agree to work on hydropower project

South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn and his Lao counterpart, Thongsing Thammavong, agreed Monday to work closely on a hydro-power project in the Southeast Asian country, a South Korean official said.

The two sides had planned to sign a deal on the development of Sepon III hydro-power plant at their meeting, though they failed to ink the deal due to differences.

The two sides remain at odds over which country will build a road leading up to the power plant, among other things.

Mekong Region: Asia’s New Growth Center and Strategic Frontier

The Mekong countries of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam are emerging to be not only the new growth center but also a new strategic frontier in Asia.

With a population of around 240 million and a combined GDP of $664 billion, the Mekong region has geopolitical significance and economic weight. It is located at the junction of the enormous emerging markets of Asia and their combined population of about 3.3 billion.

Myanmar’s landmark election and the likelihood of a peaceful and smooth power transition have drawn more international attention and interest to the Mekong region as a whole. Myanmar is expected to be a key regional actor and now possibly a catalyst of regional peace, democracy, and development.

Stop Sesan Dam, Locals Tell Gov’t

More than 90 percent of people affected by the $800 million Lower Sesan II hydroelectricity project want the government to halt construction of the dam and the area turned into one of the world’s largest eco-tourism reserves, a survey released yesterday by the NGO Forum found.

One of the survey’s authors, Kem Ley, who is also a political analyst, said the compensation and resettlement process was inconsistent and lacked transparency and the whole project was undermined by the lack of community consultation from the beginning.

“About 93 percent of those affected demand the government cancel the construction project because they don’t want to lose their culture and their burial and spiritual lands,” he said.