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The first bend of the Nu River. (Wang Yongchen)

Dammed, diverted and polluted, China’s rivers are reaching an ecological tipping point. Today there are more than 25,800 large dams in China, more than any other country in the world. These projects have forced more than 10 million people from their homes and land, many of whom are still suffering the impacts of displacement and dislocation. Around 30% of China's rivers are severely polluted, and some rivers don’t meet the sea anymore.

Yet despite the poor record of dam construction in China, the Chinese government has ambitious plans to expand hydropower generation, more than doubling capacity to 250,000 MW by the year 2020. Huge hydropower cascades have been proposed and are being constructed in some of China’s most pristine and diverse river basins in the country's remote southwest – the Lancang (Upper Mekong) and Nu (Salween) Rivers, and upstream of the Three Gorges Dam in the Yangtze River basin, such as the Tiger Leaping Gorge Dam.

In recent years, Chinese institutions have taken a lead in building dams not just domestically but also abroad. Chinese banks and companies are involved in constructing dozens of large dams outside of China, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia.

A growing movement within China is questioning the government’s approach to hydropower development and demanding more transparent and participatory planning processes. China has huge potential for energy efficiency and renewable energy, which the government is starting to explore. Official government bodies have estimated that China could reduce its energy use by 100,000 MW by 2020 through demand side management policies and efficiency measures, and that China has the potential to generate up to 1,000 GW of clean, renewable wind power.

International Rivers is working with the growing Chinese river protection movement to support their calls for a cautious approach to development that balances economic growth and environmental protection. We are also monitoring China's role in building dams around the world, and are supporting efforts to strengthen the environmental standards of China's overseas projects.


Chinese Experts Appeal to Authorities to Suspend Big Dam Projects in Southwest China Following Sichuan’s Deadly Earthquake

Engineers Face Testing Times as Thousands Flee Dam Threat

China Considers Earthquake Danger of Dams

DEVELOPMENT-CHINA: Temblor Throws Shadow on Big Dam Ambitions

Greens Demand Halt to ‘Feverish’ Dam Building


Aviva Imhof
aviva [at] internationalrivers [dot] org
+1 510 848 1155

Peter Bosshard
peter [at] internationalrivers [dot] org
+1 510 848 1155