The Mekong Region has entered a phase of large-scale hydropower resource exploitation. The region's recent embrace of large hydropower is driven by both push and pull factors. The 'pull' firstly consists of strong demand for electricity in the economies of Thailand, China, and Vietnam, as forecast using a particular set of energy forecasting methods. Another set of factors supporting hydropower development includes state policy. For instance, the Government of Laos has declared its aim to expand its GDP growth so as to achieve middle income country status by 2020, and hydropower revenue is expected to play an important role in that strategy. The rapid hydropower expansion in Yunnan in China has major impacts on both the national and provincial economy as well as the finance sector, the rivers and the people of the province.
Large dams and associated infrastructure projects can have profound impacts on people’s livelihood and ecosystems. Hydropower governance in the region is considered problematic by many actors, often for reasons that relate to weak governance regimes. Likewise how long-term electricity generation planning is governed matters for sustainability.
To improve water governance, the important assumptions and beliefs that underpin electricity planning practices must be made clear. National planning processes need to become more accessible to public stakeholders, both in terms of improved participatory processes, and in terms of improved accountability about the many choices modelers make as part of long-term electricity generation planning. Regional policy initiatives in the past have sent mixed signals about sustainable hydropower and energy development. A need exists to identify and support initiatives with credible claims to sustainability.