China is planning to build at least 84 major dams in its southwest region, as shown in a map from the Wilson Center, eventually boosting its hydropower capacity by more than 160 gigawatts. By next year China’s capacity will surpass Europe’s, and by 2020 it’s projected to be larger than that of the U.S. and Europe combined.
An interactive map shows the scale and number of major dams proposed, under construction, existing, and canceled. The dam rush is part of an ongoing effort by China to increase non-fossil energy sources to 11.4 percent of the country’s total energy consumption — a goal that has gained urgency due to severe air pollution in many northern Chinese cities. However, the hydropower push is not without its own major environmental consequences, the Wilson Center notes.
More than 70 of the dams planned or being constructed are located in so-called “biodiversity hotspots,” areas with rich species diversity that are threatened by development. The cascades of planned dams will submerge important corridors that connect tropical rainforests to the Tibetan Plateau and allow wildlife to migrate to cooler climates as temperatures rise.