Written by Mekong Institute

The GMS has arrived at a crossroads in meeting the needs and keeping the balances whereas hydropower presents great economic and energy gains, at the same time, concerns have intensified over the potential cumulative impacts the proposed schemes have on the environment and the peoples livelihoods in the Mekong Basin   

In response to this dynamic situation, the Mekong Institute had the pleasure of organizing a regional seminar sponsored by the Government of P.R. China and hosted by the Royal Government of Cambodia on Water Energy and Environmental Protection in the GMS Meeting the Needs andKeeping the Ecological Balance held from March 21-23, 2012, in Cambodiana Hotel, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The seminar focused on promoting regional cooperation for sustainable management oft he growing number of hydropower projects in the region. It included detailed discussions and presentations on regional experiences, developing regional technical knowledge and sharing best practices relevant to all stages of planning and implementation.

The seminar was attended by over 70 representatives from state agencies, private enterprises and civil society from across the GMS and beyond who are directly involved in sustainable hydropower and environmental protection in the GMS. The three-day event was organized in three parts. Day one provided an overview on sustainable
hydropower development featuring presentations on Cambodias current status and issues an exemplary sustainable hydropower plant in China, and an overview of the importance of hydropower in the context of the GMS. Day two gave experts from each GMS country the opportunity to update everyone on each countrys current water energy statuses, sharing lessons learned and best practices in the aspect of hydropower development. That same day, a courtesy call was made to H.E. Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia, and was followed by a dinner cruise along the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers. On the third day, three discussion groups were formed to deliberate on three top priority issues concerning South-South Cooperation:

  1. Regional WaterEnergy and Power Interconnection,
  2. Subregional Environmental Protection, and
  3. Setting-Up Regional Water Energy Networks in the GMS. The first group deliberated on power interconnection issues, and found that the main issues are: the lack of coordination between sectors and countries, environmental concerns to be considered, negotiation imbalances, and the absence of a master plan for all countries to adhere to. The recommendations included putting-up environmental protection guidelines and information-sharing

Proceedings of the Water Energy Development and Environmental Protection in the Greater Mekong Subregion
A Regional Seminar with the theme: Meeting the Needs and Keeping the Ecological Balance mechanisms, setting-up a regional regulatory framework on negotiation, and for the Mekong Countries to develop a master plan jointly.

The second group raised the following issues in subregional environmental protection: the lack in researches and studies on the environment as well as the dissemination thereof, the need for strong commitment from investors to improve or provide sustainable livelihood, and the lack of a regional legal framework among countries that are affected. To these issues, they recommended that the governments should take the leading role in research and the dissemination thereof, strengthen the environmental monitoring system, develop a regional legal agreement on benefit-sharing, and develop a Regional Environmental Fund.

The third group was tasked to identify, if a regional network would be set-up, who it shall comprise of, what their roles would be and what possible engagements or activities they could set forth. With this, they have identified that the new task force or network should comprise of: various officials from the GMS and its working groups, organizations like the MRC and MI, the private sector, academe and development partners, as well as a presence from ASEAN economic/ socio-cultural agencies. Their roles would be to coordinate, mobilize funds, plan & monitor, negotiate, transfer or disseminate information and support policy makers with activities ranging from database development, meetings and seminars, researches, capacity-building activities and many others.

In summary, all three priorities discussed pointed to the same needs:

  1. a regional platform or body for discussion and collaboration;
  2. a regional framework or master plan that takes into account the different countries needs and concerns and (3) a regional information/data sharing mechanism toconnect and update all stakeholders on matters of importance and relevance in the development of sustainable hydropower.

The seminar resulted in a number of significant outcomes including:

A heightened and updated understanding on the issues, challenges and needs concerning hydropower in the different countries in the GMS

A shared understanding that a common platform, or framework for the Mekong Mainstream is needed in order to protect and balance the various needs of the upstream and the downstream countries

An increased awareness on the benefits, importance and underlying opportunities in South-South Cooperation

Recognition that a wide range of stakeholders need to be involved in all stages of the process, from development to implementation

With this, the Mekong Institute pledges to disseminate the results of the seminar to all participants, sponsoring and host governments, and aims to work with partnering organizations and interested Southern donors to develop proposals to implement the recommended actions garnered from the seminar. MI will also communicate back to all participants on the approved projects their recommendations helped put forth.

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