Wednesday, October 06, 2010

china to dam its way to power over asia?

Tibetan Review | To wean itself off dirty coal energy, China has launched an ambitious new program of hydropower expansion. The goal is to raise its exploitation of national hydropower potential from one-third to 60% by 2020. And the best hydropower locations are almost all in the Tibetan plateau, noted Steven Solomon, author of WATER: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization, in an article on Sep 9.

And as Asia gets more thirsty under the effects of relentless global warming, it is China which through its political control of Tibet lords over the commanding heights of the continent’s water towers. And the country is moving aggressively—and unilaterally—to exploit them for its own ends, according to Solomon.

The headwaters of the mighty rivers Yangtze, Yellow, Mekong, Salween, Brahmaputra, Indus, Sutlej, among others, all originate in the snow packs and glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau, the "water towers of Asia”. More than 1.5 billion people downstream depend upon its waters.

How China builds and manages its dams, and exerts it power, will have a major impact on the seasonal river flows, water quality and ecosystems in the lower reaches—and on the food security, energy production, and political stability of the nations there, Solomon feels.

In particular, he notes, India is warily watching China build giant hydropower dams on the Brahmaputra and worrying—despite vigorous dismissals by Beijing—that China might divert the river to supplement its gigantic South to North Water Diversion Project.

He expects that within 10 years China would open the world's largest hydropower dam at the Brahmaputra's great bend, feeding headlines about Sino-India border disputes. He expects the Geostrategic balances by then to tilt in China's favour.

Solomon notes that cooperation can offer positive sum benefits like providing cheap, renewable regional hydroelectric power and evening out the wide, monsoonal variations in river flows. China wants to be viewed as cooperative and is moving in the right direction by sharing data and other gestures. But the big question, he says, is whether it is moving far and fast enough.

But the bigger danger remains of the water towers themselves starting to go empty due to the effects of global warming, for then everyone will be in trouble.