The government of Cambodia has announced that the country will not develop new hydropower dams on the Mekong River for the next 10 years, putting two planned dams at Sambor and Stung Treng on pause. The decision means that Laos, which has opened two new dams in the past six months, is now the only country on the Lower Mekong Basin that is planning hydropower on the river.
Cambodia has indicated its intention to source energy from a combination of coal, natural gas and solar. Electricity shortages and outages in Cambodia have been attributed to low levels of water in the Mekong and its tributaries.
"According to the study (of Japanese consultants), we need to develop coal, liquified natural gas (LNG) imports from neighbouring countries and solar energy," said Victor Jona, director general of energy at Cambodia's Ministry of Mines and Energy. There is little detail on the government’s master plan, only that there are no plans for hydropower between 2020 and 2030.
Record drought, low river levels, low fishing catches and increased salinity are affecting fishing grounds and farmland from China through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Cambodia, which is reliant on hydropower for about 48 percent of its domestic electricity production, is growing fast and imports about 25 percent of its load from Vietnam and Thailand.
WWF has welcomed the Cambodia government's decision to develop a sustainable energy plan that “promotes clean and renewable energy alternatives”.
Teak Seng, WWF-Cambodia Country Director commented in a 19 March press release that “Maintaining the lower Mekong in Cambodia free-flowing is the best decision for both people and nature, and WWF commends the Cambodian government for ruling out the hydropower dam development and instead pursuing other energy sources such as solar to meet the Kingdom’s power demand. WWF stands ready to work with the government to support development of a system-wide sustainable energy plan that promotes clean and renewable energy alternatives, contributing to the country’s energy goals without damming Cambodia’s remaining free-flowing rivers".
Marc Goichot, WWF Freshwater Lead, Asia Pacific said that "The 10 year moratorium on mainstream dams on the Mekong River announced by the government of Cambodia is the best possible news for the sustainable future of the tens of millions of people living alongside it and for the amazing biodiversity that depends on it, especially the world’s largest population of Irrawaddy river dolphins. Cambodia’s correct decision is an example for other countries, recognizing free-flowing rivers provide invaluable benefits for people and countless wild species that depend on".