Hydropower development in the context of climate change: Exploring conflicts and fostering cooperation across scales and boundaries in the Eastern Himalayas


Albeit at a slower pace than the consortium would have wanted, key stakeholders gradually show openness to better understand the link between hydropower and climate change. It is still too early to suggest that policies and regulatory framework will indeed be changed towards a more just distribution of risks and benefits, but there plans to translate research findings in Environmental mpact Assessment toolkits,as well as to integrate E-flow considerations in district development plans in Nepal. A regional conference is planned to push this on to the policy level. Related local capacities will be strengthened.


The culturally- and bio-diverse region of the Eastern Himalayas is vulnerable to climate change, and the target of ambitious hydropower development plans. This project sets out to explore how the impacts of hydropower development will intersect with the effects of climate change.

To date, considerations of climate change are mainly expressed by Northern parties. In the plans and policies of Nepal, Sikkim and North Bengal, hydropower development is not pursued to mitigate climate change, but to meet objectives of economic growth and energy demand. The distribution of the enormous benefits of hydropower development risk being skewed across groups and scales, which is one reason why it is very contentious. Those who benefit most - national governments, construction companies, financing agencies - also have most voice and (political and economic) power. In contrast, the mountain communities most directly experiencing the combined effects hydropower development and climate change are also most prone to (increased) risks, and benefit least. They are also least well placed to voice their concerns.

This project's underlying motivation, therefore, is to help improving the livelihood and water security of these communities, reducing their vulnerability to climate change and improving their political voice and leverage.

Rather than rejecting it altogether, the project's objective is to propose and develop more just and climate resilient modalities of hydropower development, and create new solidarities around these. Through a cross-border comparative transdisciplinary research approach, we investigate diverse historical trajectories of hydropower development in terms of their financial, technological and institutional modalities, and of the conflicts and solidarities these provoke. This feeds into more specific field studies to (1) understand how these trajectories and modalities re-configure institutional landscapes around water and energy at multiple scales; (2) map how they differently distribute climate-related water risks and benefits 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; (4) identify how socio-political, territorial and ethnic fractures influence political space and voice in water governance, translating into either conflicts or solidarities at different scales.

The research is embedded in a large network of committed researchers, scholars, journalists, activists and policymakers that will also be used to strengthen local policy research capacities and their climate change literacy; encourage learning across communities; facilitate nested networking and cross-boundary learning among community and civil societies, and among relevant energy- and water professionals.


Publication meant for a broad audience

  • Minket Lepcha(2016): Voices of Teesta

Professional publication

  • Himanshu Thakkar, Deepa Joshi(2016): Better decision-making about large dams with a view to sustainable development
  • Hari K. Shrestha(2016): Report on the Seminar on Environmental Flow Assessment in Water Resources Development Programmes

Publical information

  • Diana Morales Irato(2016): Hydropower, tunnelling and its effects on water availability in the Himalayan springs - Evidence from Sikkim
  • Manon Ottens(2016): Gaining public acceptance in the development of small-scale hydropower in East Nepal
  • Anke Verheij(2017): The challenge of developing hydropower in Nepal - how discourses and modalities co-shape the development of hydropower


Project number

W 07.68.413

Main applicant

Dr. D. Joshi

Affiliated with

Wageningen University & Research, Omgevingswetenschappen, Irrigatie & Waterbouwkunde (IWE)

Team members

Dr. D. Joshi, Dr. D. Joshi, Dr. J. Budds, M. Chettri, Dr. V. Chhotray, Dr. G. Choudhury, Dr. F. Clement, Dr. P.J. Das, Dr. S. Fraser, Ir. D. Gyawali, A. Huber, K.J. Joy, Dr. V. Khawas, Dr. H. Kulkarni, Dr. ir. J. Liebrand, Mr. S. Mehta, Dr. ir. H. Shrestha, Prof. dr. ir. M.Z. Zwarteveen


01/01/2014 to 13/01/2018