Brazil Rethinks Mega-Dam Development After ‘Swathes of Forest Clearance’
In what The Guardian calls a “surprise statement”, a senior official in Brazil is saying his country’s hydro development policy will be rethought in response to environmental concerns, Indigenous rights, and public pushback.
The announcement comes “after swathes of forest clearance, millions of tonnes of concrete, and decades of hydro expansion,” the paper notes. But “anti-dam activists welcomed the apparent shift, despite skepticism about the declared motives, which they believe mask a drying up of bribes from the construction industry.”
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The policy change “could reprieve the Tapajos and free-flowing rivers from a plan to open half the Amazon basin to hydro-development.”
Brazil generates more than 70% of its electricity from hydro—an arrangement that caused serious problems a couple of years ago when reservoirs were drawn down by a record drought. “Until recently, most of the generating capacity came from plants near the southern border and the economic hubs of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte,” The Guardian notes. But more recently, with support from presidents Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, dam builders “pushed north into the Amazon with the huge Belo Monte project on the Xingu river, despite environmental concerns, court battles, and fierce resistance from Indigenous residents.”
The next round of development on the Tapajos has been slowed down by declining government revenue and a slow economy, as well as the impact of climate change on hydro dams’ reliability. Now, the new government of President Michel Temer “appears to be considering a far bigger retreat,” writes Global Environment Editor Jonathan Watts.
“We don’t hold preconceptions about big projects, but we have to respect the views of society, which has reservations about them,” Ministry of Mines and Energy Executive Secretary Paulo Pedrosa told a local newspaper.