Advertisement

Ambio

, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 156–164 | Cite as

Dams, Chinese investments, and EIAs: A race to the bottom in South America?

  • Andrea K. GerlakEmail author
  • Marcelo Saguier
  • Megan Mills-Novoa
  • Philip M. Fearnside
  • Tamee R. Albrecht
Perspective

Abstract

The political economy of dam development in South America is changing as a result of a resurgence in water infrastructure investments. The arrival of Chinese-funded projects in the region has altered a context traditionally dominated by multilateral development banks. Tensions are escalating around new dam projects and the environmental impact assessment process is increasingly the site of politicization around water in the region. In this perspective, we examine the most recent surge in dam development in South America, the resulting environmental and social impacts, and the mobilization of civil society and environmental groups that have developed in response to these projects. In the absence of regionally shared standards for environmental assessment and regional mechanisms to mitigate the emerging conflicts—primarily occurring between companies, states, and civil society—we argue there is a risk of a race to the bottom to finance infrastructure projects with laxer environmental and social standards.

Keywords

China Conflict Dams EIAs Hydropower Regionalism 

References

  1. Agostini, C.A., C. Silva, and S. Nasirov. 2017. Failure of energy mega-projects in Chile: A critical review from sustainability perspectives. Sustainability 9: 1073.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alvarenga, B. 2017. A energia da China. Veja, 27 December 2017, 85.Google Scholar
  3. Ansar, A., B. Flyvbjerg, A. Budzier, and D. Lunn. 2014. Should we build more large dams? The actual costs of hydropower megaproject development. Energy Policy 69: 43–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. BBC-Brasil. 2018. Bolsonaro presidente: As propostas com as quais Jair Bolsonaro se elegeu presidente do Brasil. BBC-Brasil, 28 October 2018. Retrieved November 23, 2018, from https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/brasil-46012309.
  5. Borgias, S.L., and Y.A. Braun. 2017. From dams to democracy: Framing processes and political opportunities in Chile’s Patagonia Without Dams movement. Interface: A Journal on Social Movements 9: 300–328.Google Scholar
  6. Bragagnolo, C., C. Carvalho, R.J. Ladle, and A. Pellin. 2017. Streamlining or sidestepping? Political pressure to revise environmental licensing and EIA in Brazil. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 65: 86–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown, P.H., D. Tullos, B. Tilt, D. Magee, and A.T. Wolf. 2009. Modeling the costs and benefits of dam construction from a multidisciplinary perspective. Journal of Environmental Management 90: S303–S311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Buenos Aires Herald. 2016. Companies defend Santa Cruz dams project. Buenos Aires Herald. 2 January 2016. Retrieved February 6, 2018, from http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/205937/companies-defend-santa-cruz-dams-project.
  9. Chavkin, S. 2016. Debate surrounds World Bank’s proposed new safeguards rules. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. (2 August 2016). Retrieved January 28, 2018, from https://www.icij.org/blog/2016/08/debate-surrounds-world-banks-proposed-new-safeguards-rules/.
  10. Correio Braziliense. 2017. Chinese want to buy Belo Monte Power Plant in Pará. Correio Braziliense, 31 January 2017. Retrieved July 1, 2018, from http://www.correiobraziliense.com.br/app/noticia/economia/2017/01/31/internas_economia,569460/chineses-querem-comprar-a-usina-eletrica-de-belo-monte-no-para.shtml.
  11. Crow-Miller, B., M. Webber, and F. Molle. 2017. The (Re)turn of infrastructure for water management? Water Alternatives 10: 195–207.Google Scholar
  12. Custudio, L. 2017. El dragado potenciará el sistema de puertos de la hidrovía del Río Uruguay. Economía y Mercado. 2017. Retrieved 1 July, 2017, http://www.elpais.com.uy/economia-y-mercado/dragado-potenciara-sistema-puertos-hidrovia-rio-uruguay.html.
  13. da Silva Soito, J.L., and M.A.V. Freitas. 2011. Amazon and the expansion of hydropower in Brazil: Vulnerability, impacts, and possibilities for adaptation to global climate change. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 15: 3165–3177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. De Stefano, L., J.D. Petersen-Perlman, E.A. Sproles, J. Eynard, and A. Wolf. 2017. Assessment of transboundary river basins for potential hydro-political tensions. Global Environmental Change 45: 35–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. EFE EPA. 2017. Brazil attracts Chinese investment for big infrastructure projects. September 1st. Retrieved July 1, 2018, from https://www.efe.com/efe/english/business/brazil-attracts-chinese-investment-for-big-infrastructure-projects/50000265-3367830.
  16. Fearnside, P.M. 2014a. As barragens e as inundações no rio Madeira. Ciência Hoje 53: 56–57.Google Scholar
  17. Fearnside, P.M. 2014b. Impacts of Brazil’s Madeira River dams: Unlearned lessons for hydroelectric development in Amazonia. Environmental Science & Policy 38: 164–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fearnside, P.M. 2015a. Amazon dams and waterways: Brazil’s Tapajós Basin plans. Ambio 44: 426–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fearnside, P.M. 2015b. Brazil’s São Luiz do Tapajós Dam: The art of cosmetic environmental impact assessments. Water Alternatives 8: 373–396.Google Scholar
  20. Fearnside, P.M. 2016a. Environmental and social impacts of hydroelectric dams in Brazilian Amazonia: Implications for the aluminum industry. World Development 77: 48–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fearnside, P.M. 2016b. Brazilian politics threaten environmental policies. Science 353: 746–748.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fearnside, P. M. 2017a. Amazon dam defeats Brazil’s environment agency. Mongabay, 20 September 2017. Retrieved July 1, 2018, from https://news.mongabay.com/2017/09/amazon-dam-defeats-Brazils-environment-agency-commentary/.
  23. Fearnside, P.M. 2017b. Belo Monte: Actors and arguments in the struggle over Brazil’s most controversial Amazonian dam. Die Erde 148: 14–26.Google Scholar
  24. Fearnside, P. M. 2018a. Environmental justice and Brazil’s Amazonian dams. In Landscapes of Inequity: The Quest for Environmental Justice in the Andes/Amazon Region. eds. N. A. Robins and B. Fraser, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. (in press).Google Scholar
  25. Fearnside, P.M. 2018b. Challenges for sustainable development in Brazilian Amazonia. Sustainable Development 26: 141–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fearnside, P. M. 2018c. Why Brazil’s new president poses an unprecedented threat to the Amazon. Yale Environment 360, 8 November 2018. Retrieved November 23, 2018, from https://e360.yale.edu/features/why-brazils-new-president-poses-an-unprecedented-threat-to-the-amazon.
  27. Finer, M., and C.N. Jenkins. 2012. Proliferation of hydroelectric dams in the Andean Amazon and implications for Andes-Amazon connectivity. PLoS ONE 7: e35126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Forsberg, B.R., J.M. Melack, T. Dunne, R.B. Barthem, M. Goulding, R.C.D. Paiva, M.V. Sorribas, and U.L. Silva Jr. 2017. The potential impact of new Andean dams on Amazon fluvial ecosystems. PLoS ONE 12: 0182254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gallagher, K., and R. Porzecanski. 2010. The dragon in the room: China and the future of Latin American Industrialization. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Garcia, L.C., D.B. Ribeiro, F.O. Roque, J.M.O. Quintero, and W.F. Laurance. 2017. Brazil’s worst mining disaster: Corporations must be compelled to pay the actual environmental costs. Ecological Applications 27: 5–9.  https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.1461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gerlak, A.K., and M. Saguier. 2015. Interdisciplinary knowledge frameworks for transboundary river basins. International Journal of Water Resources Development 4: 790–794.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gobierno de la República del Perú and Gobierno de la República Federativa de Brasil. 2009. Acuerdo entre el gobierno de la República Federativa del Brasil y el gobierno de la República del Perú para el suministro de electricidad al Perú y exportación de excedentes al Brasil. https://www.internationalrivers.org/sites/default/files/attached-files/acuerdoenergetico_peru_brazil_0.pdf.
  33. Human Rights Watch. 2017. Letter to the World Bank on the Environmental and Social Standards Guidance Notes. 4 December 2017. Retrieved January 28, 2018, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/04/letter-world-bank-environmental-and-social-standards-guidance-notes.
  34. International Hydropower Association. 2018. Hydropower Status Report: Sector Trends and Insights. London: IHA.Google Scholar
  35. International Rivers. 2012. The New Great Walls: A guide to China’s overseas dam industry. Berkeley Foundation: International Rivers, https://www.internationalrivers.org/sites/default/files/attached-files/intlrivers_newgreatwalls_2012_2.pdf.
  36. International Rivers. 2015. The many faults of El Quimbo Dam. Berkeley Foundation: International Rivers. Retrieved January 29, 2018, from https://www.internationalrivers.org/blogs/436/the-many-faults-of-el-quimbo-dam.
  37. Koop, F. 2017. Argentina under pressure to revive dams in Patagonia. Diálogo Chino. 31 July 2017. Retrieved February 6, 2018, from http://dialogochino.net/argentina-under-pressure-to-revive-dams-in-patagonia/.
  38. Latrubesse, E.M., E.Y. Arima, T. Dunne, E. Park, V.R. Baker, F.M. d’Horta, C. Wight, F. Wittmann, et al. 2017. Damming the rivers of the Amazon basin. Nature 546: 363–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Macauhub. 2014. Energias de Portugal vende activos no Brasil à China Three Gorges. https://macauhub.com.mo/pt/2014/11/12/energias-de-portugal-sells-assets-in-brazil-to-china-three-gorges/.
  40. McDonald, K., P. Bosshard, and N. Brewer. 2009. Exporting dams: China’s hydropower industry goes global. Journal of Environmental Management 90: S294–S302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mills-Novoa, M., and R.T. Hermoza. 2017. Coexistence and conflict: IWRM and large-scale water infrastructure development in Piura, Peru. Water Alternatives 10: 370–394.Google Scholar
  42. Molle, F., P.P. Mollinga, and P. Wester. 2009. Hydraulic bureaucracies and the hydraulic mission: Flows of water, flows of power. Water Alternatives 2: 328–349.Google Scholar
  43. Mora, S. 2018. Resistencias sociales a la cooperación de China en infraestructura: Las represas Kirchner-Cepernic en Argentina. Colombia Internacional 94: 53–81.  https://doi.org/10.7440/colombiaint94.2018.03.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Muggah, R., and A. Abdenur. 2017. China’s strategic play in Brazil. America’s Quarterly, 27 September 2017. http://www.americasquarterly.org/content/chinas-strategic-play-brazil.
  45. Nathanson, M. 2017. Damming or damning the Amazon: Assessing Ecuador/China cooperation. Mongabay, 22 November 2017. https://news.mongabay.com/2017/11/damming-or-damning-the-amazon-assessing-ecuador-china-cooperation/.
  46. Prado, A.P., S. Athayde, J. Mossa, S. Bohlman, F. Leite, and A. Oliver-Smith. 2016. How much is enough? An integrated examination of energy security, economic growth and climate change related to hydropower expansion in Brazil. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 53: 1132–1136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Reuters. 2017. Brazil, China open $20 billion fund for infrastructure, tech projects. Thompson Reuters. 26 June 2017. Retrieved April 5, 2018, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-china-infrastructure/brazil-china-open-20-billion-fund-for-infrastructure-tech-projects-idUSKBN19H2NP.
  48. Ritter, C.D., G. McCrate, R.H. Nilsson, P.M. Fearnside, U. Palme, and A. Antonelli. 2017. Environmental impact assessment in Brazilian Amazonia: Challenges and prospects to assess biodiversity. Biological Conservation 206: 161–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Saguier, M. 2018. Transboundary water governance in South America. In Handbook of South American Governance, ed. Pia Riggirozzi and Christopher Wylde, 373–384. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  50. Silber-Coats, N. 2017. Clean energy and water conflicts: Contested narratives of small hydropower in Mexico’s Sierra Madre Oriental. Water Alternatives 10: 578–601.Google Scholar
  51. Toro, J., and I. Requena. 2010. Environmental impact assessment in Colombia: Critical analysis and proposals for improvement. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 30: 247–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Warner, J., J. Hoogesteger, and J.P. Hidalgo. 2017. Old wine in new bottles: The adaptive capacity of the hydraulic mission in Ecuador. Water Alternatives 10: 322–340.Google Scholar
  53. Winemiller, K.O., P.B. McIntyre, L. Castello, E. Fluet-Chouinard, T. Giarrizzo, S. Nam, I.G. Baird, W. Darwall, et al. 2016. Balancing hydropower and biodiversity in the Amazon, Congo, and Mekong: Basin-scale planning is needed to minimize impacts in mega-diverse rivers. Science 351: 128–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. World Bank. 2016. World Bank Board Approves New Environmental and Social Framework. The World Bank. 4 August 2016. Retrieved January 28, 2018, from http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2016/08/04/world-bank-board-approves-new-environmental-and-social-framework.
  55. Zomer, A. 2009. Tracking environmental impact assessment rollbacks. World Resources Institute. Blog Post. Washington, DC. 4 June 2009. http://www.wri.org/blog/2009/06/tracking-environmental-impact-assessment-rollbacks.

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Geography and DevelopmentUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.School of Politics and GovernmentNational University of San Martin (UNSAM)Buenos AiresArgentina
  3. 3.Coordenação de Dinâmica Ambiental (CDAM)Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da AmazôniaManausBrazil

Personalised recommendations