A China-backed dam in Indonesia threatens a rare great ape – and that's just the tip of the icebergBig dams, big risksHydropower is expected t...

A China-backed dam in Indonesia threatens a rare great ape – and that's just the tip of the icebergBig dams, big risksHydropower is expected t...A China-backed dam in Indonesia threatens a rare great ape – and that's just the tip of the iceberg
Big dams, big risks
Hydropower is expected to be an important part of the global renewable energy transition. But the technology brings environmental risks. Dams disrupt the flow of rivers, altering species’ habitat. And dam reservoirs inundate and fragment habitats on land.

Traditionally, financing of hydropower projects in low-income countries was the preserve of Western-backed multilateral development banks. China has now emerged as the biggest international financier of hydropower under its overseas infrastructure investment program, the Belt and Road Initiative.

Yet little is known about the scale of China’s hydropower financing or the biodiversity risks it brings. Whether adequate safeguards are applied to the projects by Chinese and host country regulators is also poorly understood. Our research attempted to remedy this.

We found China is funding 49 hydropower dams in 18 countries including Myanmar, Laos and Pakistan.

The dams are likely to impede the flow of 14 free-flowing rivers, imperilling the species they harbour. The first dam on a free-flowing river is akin to the proverbial “first cut” of a road into an intact forest ecosystem, causing disproportionate harms to biodiversity.