Contesting the ‘greening’ of hydropower in the Brazilian Amazon

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The 21st century has witnessed a resurgence of hydropower projects across the globe, with the energy source an integral part of contemporary sustainable energy transitions. Yet, the environmentalist credentials of hydropower remain contested by anti-dam movements. This paper details the cases of the Belo Monte and São Luiz do Tapajós dams in the Brazilian Amazon to explore how the development, submission and acceptance of an Environmental Impact Assessment provides a key site in the contestation of hydroelectric projects. Whilst the provision of this document – and the wider environmental licensing process – represents a key component in the asserted ‘green-ness’ of hydropower, opposition groups extend the scope of analysis to include indirect and cumulative impacts that remain understudied in official assessments. This paper analyses interviews and questionnaires with and documents provided by national and international civil society organisations to trace this process of challenge and critique. It details how civil society actors forward alternative assessments of the impacts of the projects studied, uncovering and illuminating overlooked and understudied externalities of hydropower in the Brazilian Amazon. An analysis of this process not only illuminates that the ‘green’ credentials of hydropower remain far from assured but also highlights how anti-dam actors advance new ‘sustainabilities’ to discredit the terrain upon which such credentials are set.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102179
JournalPolitical Geography
Early online date8 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • Hydropower
  • Brazil
  • Belo Monte
  • São Luiz do Tapajós
  • Environmental Impact Assessments
  • Sustainability
  • Energy Transitions


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