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Infrastructure Challenges, Renewable Energy and Protecting the Mighty Mekong

Courtney Weatherby


In recent years, the Mekong region has experienced both massive floods and devastating drought. While the largest factor in this is climate variability, human-made infrastructure and the way that dams upstream are operated also impact the resilience of the system. China has nine dams on the mainstream of the Mekong River in its territory, with dozens more on key tributaries flowing into the Mekong River. Laos has already started construction on two mainstream Mekong dams and has built more than sixty dams throughout the tributaries of the Mekong. Thailand has major irrigation projects that impact the river, and Vietnam’s hydropower projects in the central highlands impact the 3S System as it flows into Cambodia. This massive buildout of infrastructure poses both high-level economic and geopolitical challenges but also concrete impacts to food, water, and energy security for tens of millions of people living along the Mekong River and on the Tonle Sap, which is the beating heart of fisheries for the Mekong system. Courtney Weatherby is coming to the Center for Khmer Studies to explore the challenges surrounding transboundary coordination of water resources and infrastructure. Rather than focus only on the problems, she will present a more sustainable alternative to the business-as-usual pathway that has prompted overdevelopment of hydropower throughout the Mekong Basin. If policymakers take advantage of renewable energy alternatives and also use multi-sector planning tools to strategically select less-impactful sites for hydropower, it isn’t too late to preserve the mightiness of the Mekong River.


Courtney Weatherby is a research analyst with the Stimson Center’s Southeast Asia and Energy, Water, & Sustainability programs. Her research focuses on sustainable infrastructure and energy development challenges in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific, particularly food-water-energy nexus issues in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Weatherby was lead author on the Stimson Center Mekong Power Shift report, the TRENDS Institution UAE Energy Diplomacy report, wrote a chapter “China Invests in Myanmar: The Political Fallout of ‘Going Out’ Next Door” in the 2014 book China’s Great Leap Outward, and has authored and co-authored numerous short pieces a range of online publications including East by Southeast, The Bangkok Post, Nikkei Asian Review, and China Dialogue.  She served as a US-Japan-Southeast Asia Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington in early 2019, focusing her fellowship research on US-Japan collaboration on energy infrastructure in Southeast Asia. She has spoken publicly on panels at a variety of institutions including the Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food, and Energy, the US-Asia Institute, and Chulalongkorn University. Before joining Stimson in 2014, Weatherby interned with the Center for Strategic International Studies, the State Department, and Human Rights Watch.

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