China has announced their plan to construct the world’s largest hydroelectric dam on the sacred Tibetan river. The Yarlung Tsangpo dam will produce 60 GW of power and is in line with the country’s aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Beijing has doubled down its efforts on its hydropower projects in Tibet, even as the dams have drawn criticism from Tibetan rights groups and environmentalists. While China already has an excess of energy, experts say that the power generated will probably be used to cover losses as it makes the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy. The mega-dam could produce as much as three times the hydroelectric power of China’s current largest dam, the Three Gorges, a project which forced the relocation of more than 1.4 million people.
The world’s largest dam will be built in Medog County, which has a population of 14,000 people. The Yarlung Tsangpo, however, is of particular significance as it represents the body of the goddess Dorje Phagmo, one of the highest incarnations in Tibetan culture. Since the annexation of Tibet in 1950 by China, Tibetans have lost all say in what happens on their land.
From its origin in the glaciers of western Tibet, the Yarlung Tsangpo reaches heights of nearly 5,000 meters above sea level, making it the highest river in the world as it snakes its way through the Himalayan mountain range. The river plunges 2,700 meters through what is known as the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, forming a gorge more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon in the United States.
The head of Environment and Development at the Tibetan Policy Institute, says this reverence for the natural world was born from the Tibetan Plateau’s unique landscape and dates back centuries. “We had absolutely no dams before Chinese occupation, not because we were not able to harness it, but because we had immense respect for the nature of the rivers.”