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Conservation or decarbonization? Small hydropower and logics of green development in China

Friday, November 30, 2018 at 3:00pm to 4:30pm

Warren Hall, B73

SpeakerTyler Harlan, Atkinson Postdoctoral Associate, Cornell University

AbstractThrough an analysis of small hydropower (SHP) in China, I argue that a focus on logics of green development provides a way to move beyond typical accounts of the environmental state and its distributional consequences. The Chinese state for decades promoted SHP as a model of green development, but in 2016 announced SHP restrictions due to its perceived poor environmental track record, a situation blamed on local officials who haphazardly constructed too many plants. But this interpretation ignores a major shift in the state’s rationale for promoting SHP: first to drive conservation-based development in rural areas, and then to fuel low-carbon development in urban areas. These two logics, I argue, are based on very different understandings of the problem that green development is meant to solve for the state, the locus and site of intervention, and whether such an intervention will generate financial returns. Using this framework, I analyze local implementation of SHP in the 2000s as driven not by conservation, but by decarbonization – a logic that drove cash-strapped local governments to build as many plants as possible. I illustrate this trajectory using case studies of three prefectures in Yunnan province, each with different economic profiles. These findings suggest that global efforts by states to achieve green development through decarbonization do not always align with – and may even contradict – rural livelihood and conservation needs.

Presented by the Department of Development Sociology Seminar Series

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Event Type

Lecture, Seminar


Development Sociology, Sustainability


dsoc, devsoc, isscal, chinacal




Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Sarah Day


Tyler Harlan

Speaker Affiliation

Development Sociology, Cornell University

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