Mekong region: sustainable energy policy

** This page is not updated anymore. Siemenpuu's regional programmes were in use until the end of 2017. Mekong cooperation is now under the climate and energy justice funding cluster **

Energy production, and electricity generation in particular, has rapidly turned into a regional business in the Mekong River region. The economies of China, Thailand and Vietnam are expanding at a high rate. Electricity, like other raw materials, are increasingly imported particularly from Laos and Myanmar (Burma), countries with vast natural resources but only little domestic consumption.

The Mekong River Basin is currently suffering from a sudden and massive increase in dam building. Dozens of dams have been built or are currently under construction on the Mekong tributaries, and dam building has begun on the mainstream as well, in Laos, to generate electricity for export. Thailand and China fund dam projects in Myanmar, and Vietnam has a major hydroelectric power programme as well. In addition to dams, an enormous lignite power plant has been built in Northern Laos, and Vietnam and Thailand have plans for building nuclear power plants.

Major power plant projects cause significant damage to nature and local communities. For example, according to research, damming the Mekong mainstream could weaken the food security of tens of millions of people by collapsing the fish stock. Fish is the primary source of animal protein for Cambodians and Laotians.

Energy projects are planned in a highly centralised manner, and decision makers often have a conflict of interest; that is, they profit from major construction projects or from the operation of power plants. The growth of consumption is overestimated in official energy plans, which leads to excess power plant capacity.

 

Every now and then, local people and civil movements succeed in postponing power plant projects (especially in Thailand), but this only results in the relocation of these projects to other regions or countries, where fighting their implementation may be more difficult. This is why regional networking and campaign cooperation of NGOs, researchers and civil movements is important.

However, resisting individual power plants is not enough; civil societies in the Mekong countries should aim to influence official plan making already at the 'upstream' of the energy sector. In order to generate public debate and to influence decision making, both scientific knowledge and active awareness raising is needed, first, on interests contributing to the growth of energy production, and, second, on cross-border capital flows and the negative impacts of energy projects.

The development of the energy sector in the Mekong region needs to be democratic, economically reasonable, environmentally sustainable and socially equitable. For this reason, the Siemenpuu Foundation promotes the development of energy policy based on decentralised and renewable energy sources and realistic energy plans.

The Mekong programme is implemented in cooperation with the Thai NGO Mekong Energy and Ecology Network (MEE Net), which was founded in 2008. MEE Net has networked with approximately 30 organisations and research centres located in all of the Mekong region countries: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Vietnam, and the Yunnan province in China. MEE Net has provided lots of capacity building on energy policy and energy planning issues for civil society actors and civil servants. The network's researchers and organizations are conducting energy political research and do advocacy work towards the national governments. Since 2013, MEE Net's work has been most active in Myanmar.

 

MEE Net's work was evaluated in 2014. The evaluation covered the funding and implementation period between the years 2008 and 2013. According to the evaluation report, MEE Net is functioning rather satisfactorily as a technical support/ knowledge resource facility for its partners in the energy sector of the Mekong region. As such, they work quite well on a request basis, and are also pro-active to tap into emerging opportunities in countries. However, there have also been some challenges. They have been taken into consideration during the new funding agreement in 2015. You can download the evaluation report here (pdf, 1.1 MB).

 

Publications from the supported projects

In January 2012, MEE Net organized an international conference "Know Your Power - Towards a participatory approach for sustainable power development in the Mekong region". Dowloand the conference report here (pdf, 4,4 Mt)

In 2013, MEE Net published a study on the role of Thai energy and construction companies and financial institutions in the energy projects in the Mekong Region. Dowload the study report here (pdf, 2,3 Mt)

In May 2013, MEE Net, Renewable Energy Association of Myanmar (REAM) ja TERRA organized in Yangon a regional conference on the ecosystem values and protection of Salween-Thanlwin River. Download the conference report here (pdf, 3,9 Mt)

In February 2015, MEE Net ja REAM organized a workshop "Integrated Resource Planning for Myanmar's Electricity Sector" for Myanmar's energy authorities and companies. Dowload the workshop report here (3,6 Mt)

 

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2.12.2016

[Juhani Klemetti] I had recently a pleasure to join Siemenpuu’s Mekong program’s project monitoring and designing trip to Myanmar. We traveled together with the Siemenpuu’s local partner organization Mekong Energy and Ecology Network (MEE Net) to Yangon and then to Shan state. MEE Net held a two-day training workshop on conducting Community-centered Strategic Environmental Assessment (C-SEA) in Danu Special Administration Zone in Southwestern Shan state.