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Changing boundaries: Spatial scales in social and environmental trade-offs in hydropower development in Nepal

Authors: Padmendra Shrestha*, University of Arizona
Topics: Development, Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Asia
Keywords: hydropower, social and environmental impacts, benefit sharing, trade-off, spatial scale
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Nepal's priority in energy infrastructure development has led to a proliferation of investments in hydropower projects in the last 5 years. As of September 2019, this includes more than 200 projects under construction with a projected cumulative capacity of approximately 8000 MW (for comparison, Nepal’s current installed capacity is about 1000MW). Though these developments reflect national energy needs, they also present high social and environmental risks and potential costs that outweigh a range of hopeful benefits. Drawing from empirical studies of existing run-off river, daily-peaking, and storage hydropower projects in Nepal, this paper analyzes three types of trade-offs in hydropower development: i) compensation and mitigation measures for social and environmental impacts, primarily defined by project developers in environmental assessment reports; ii) government policies to ensure the public benefits from hydropower projects, and iii) benefit sharing modalities which address demands of local communities and serve project developers with a way of obtaining social licenses to operate. This research shows that different stakeholders use a multitude of definitions to identify and classify affected people and beneficiaries into distinct social-spatial units. Because of the multiple definitions used in defining spatial scales, it allows space for stakeholders to negotiate not just the cost and benefits, but also the boundaries that affect or benefit people. This paper illustrates specific examples of how project boundaries are negotiated in defining social and environmental tradeoffs in hydropower projects in Nepal.

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