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Hydropower Development in the Context of Climate Change: Exploring Conflicts and Fostering Collaboration across Scales and Boundaries in the Eastern Himalayas

The Eastern Himalayas are highly vulnerable to climate change, and also the target of ambitious hydropower development plans. This project (2014 - 2018) sets out to explore the multi-faceted relationship between hydropower development and the implications of climate change. In the plans and policies of India and Nepal for their Himalayan regions, hydropower development is pursued primarily to meet objectives of economic growth and energy demand, although arguments for climate change mitigation also support the industry. The distribution of the costs and benefits of hydropower development are both substantial and multi-scale, and are subject to uneven distribution among regions and social groups, which is one reason why it is very contentious. Those who benefit most - national governments, dam construction companies and financing agencies - also have the most power and voice in hydropower development, while the mountain communities – including indigenous groups – located around the dam sites most directly experience the changes brought by hydropower development to their lives, livelihoods and landscapes, do not always benefit from electricity that these dams produce, and are least well placed to voice their concerns.

Through a national and local level research, the project investigates why and how hydropower is being developed in the Eastern Himalayas, and the costs and benefits as well as alliances and conflicts that it produces - between hydropower and climate change, electricity and water, and across spatial scales. The project is organised into four work packages to (1) understand hydropower development influences institutional landscapes around water and energy at multiple scales; (2) map how hydropower and climate-related risks and benefits are distributed at different scales; (3) assess their hydrological/technical viability against climate change projections, as well as their implications for livelihood opportunities and/or risks across groups; and (4) identify how socio-political, territorial and ethnic fractures influence political space and voice in water governance.

The UEA team is primarily engaged in the second work package, examining the political economy of hydropower through analyses of the relationships between hydropower development and climate change policy, and between dam construction and water governance.


Ahlers, R., J. Budds, D. Joshi, V. Merme and M. Zwarteveen (2015) ‘Framing hydropower as green energy: assessing drivers, risk and tensions in the Eastern Himalayas’, Earth System Dynamics 6: 195-204.


UEA Team

Jessica Budds, Co-Investigator

Vasudha Chhotray, Co-Investigator


Wageningen University

Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India

International Rivers

Sikkim University

North Bengal University

Nepal Engineering College

Nepal Water Conservation Foundation

International Water Management Institute



Netherlands Research Organisation (NWO)

UK Department for International Development (DFID)