The Problem with Large Dams

An overview of the area impacted by the Belo Monte Dam. | Credit: Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento.

The more we learn, the clearer it becomes that large dams are unsustainable energy sources.

From the Mexican highlands to the Amazon River basin, hydroelectric mega-projects are aggravating climate change, destroying sensitive ecosystems, and threatening human rights and indigenous cultures.

In October 2016, a research study from Washington State University found that the world’s reservoirs generate 1.3 percent of all greenhouse gases (more than the total emissions of Canada!), confirming the damage dams do to our climate.

Large dams have no place on our rapidly changing planet. In a time of intensifying droughts, many vulnerable hydropower-dependent countries are facing energy shortages. And as extreme weather events increase around the world, the inherent danger of large dams becomes more evident. 

Throughout the construction of Belo Monte, the world’s third largest dam, we’ve seen firsthand the grave impacts these projects have on the ecosystems in which they’re built. We’ve witnessed the violations they impose on the rights of indigenous and riverine communities, whose culture and livelihoods are tied so closely to the natural world.

Yet, across Latin America and the world, large dams are still being promoted as “clean and green” energy sources; and are even receiving support from national and international climate initiatives.

That support is part of the reason more than 3,700 large dams are currently being planned or constructed worldwide, more than 400 of which have been proposed for the vital Amazon River Basin.

At AIDA, we’re proud to be part of a team leading the fight against large dams across Latin America and beyond.

What We’re Doing

  • Creating opportunities to inform governments, financial institutions and international decision-makers on the dangers of promoting large hydropower as an energy solution in a time of climate change. 
  • Supporting affected communities in their legal pursuit of justice before national and international bodies.          
  • Executing public outreach campaigns including citizens’ petitions, videos, infographics, and articles to raise public awareness of the truth about large dams. 
  • Opposing the use of climate finance for large dam projects, particularly in the case of several large dam projects already in the funding pipeline, with fellow civil society observers at the Green Climate Fund. 

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