We are currently in the midst of a global hydropower boom. A 2015 study found that 3,700 major dams are either planned or under construction globally. And that figure does not account for the major uptick in small hydropower projects, ‘run-of-the river’ diversion schemes, and pumped storage projects. This new hydropower development is being promoted as essential low-carbon energy production by the International Hydropower Association, and scientists in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have argued that hydropower has “significant potential for carbon emissions reductions.” However, hydropower also has a high environmental and social cost.
To capture water and generate electricity, dams fundamentally change ecosystems by disrupting upstream-downstream connectivity and threatening biodiversity by altering habitats. Hydroelectric dams also have major social impacts. Proponents of dams argue that they are catalysts for economic and social development, but their construction can have major consequences for nearby communities. The World Commission on Dams in 2000 estimated that between 40 to 80 million had been displaced by dams. This staggering number predated mega-projects like the Three Gorges Dam that displaced 3.6 million people in central China. Furthermore, dams are not carbon-free. Reservoirs release carbon dioxide and highly potent methane, accounting for 4% of emissions from inland waters, challenging the notion of hydropower as “clean” and “green.”
There has been long-standing opposition to hydropower development. Yet, the terms of those debates have shifted amid the rise of climate policy. During the 1990s, mass anti-dam protests broke out around the world in reaction to a decades long international dam boom. The World Commission on Dams convened a diverse group of representatives, including civil society actors, to review the development effectiveness of dams and establish best practices for future dam development. Dam development waned somewhat in the wake of its 2000 report. In the 20 years since, however, another dam boom was spurred by climate finance and the drive for clean energy. How social movements are mobilizing in response to this newest hydropower boom, however, is unknown. There have been no systematic reviews of where and how anti-dam social movements are confronting the unique challenges of this new surge in hydropower development. This project is focused on the following research questions:
How have debates about hydropower development shifted since the turn of the 21st century?
- What opposition movements have arisen in response to hydropower development during the 21st century?
- What role has the World Commission on Dams played in the development of and opposition in this new era of dam conflict?
- How has climate change shifted the debates about hydropower development over the last two decades and how has this shaped opposition?
To answer these questions, we will be undertaking a systematic review of grey literature and peer-reviewed literature on social resistance to dam development between 2000-2021 to create an interactive story map. Additionally, we will also be analyzing videos and notes from the 2021 Conference of Parties (COP) 26, where the international community debated the role of hydropower in addressing climate change and there was significant social mobilization against hydropower.
The undergraduate(s) will collaborate with Dr. Meg Mills-Novoa on the following tasks:
- Identify and collect grey literature and peer-reviewed literature related to social resistance to hydropower development
- Review literature using the systematic review software, SysRev, for identified themes
- Review videos and meeting notes from COP26 relating to the role of hydropower in climate negotiations
- If interested, draft an interactive ESRI story map related to the results of the systematic review
- At least one course related to society and environment
- Interest in environmental/climate justice, sustainability, and social movements
- Desire to learn about systematic review methodologies
- Attention to detail and organization
- Efficiency in reading and processing information