Changing Energy Policy to Save the Mekong River

Deep connections with policymakers and applied research are protecting a river basin– and a way of life – in Southeast Asia

The Mekong Basin plays a vital role as south east Asia’s “rice bowl”, the world’s largest freshwater fishery, and a provider of livelihoods that is home to more than 60 million people. Plans for more than 400 hydropower projects in the Mekong Basin will  lead this resource rich region into a water and food security crisis.

Leaning on deep relationships with national policymakers and threatened communities, Stimson’s Southeast Asia program works with leaders in the Mekong countries and among development partners to think beyond dams and instead plan for energy and water development on a system-wide scale.

IMPACT: Vietnam’s prime minister’s office has endorsed a Stimson-recommended strategy that Vietnam leverage its role as a regional power purchaser to negotiate a new blueprint for the Mekong, replacing the most damaging planned dams with solar and wind assets, and increasing energy purchasing from Laos.

models of change

Make deep connections... at every level

Through local workshops with impacted people and policymakers across the region, Stimson’s team brought in new stakeholders, building support for a new way of thinking about the interconnected problems of energy, food, and water along the Mekong basin. Paired with a longstanding relationships with government offices and officials, Stimson had the ability – and credibility – to take its argument to Vietnam’s most senior policymakers, including directly to the prime minster.

Applied research... beyond the whitepaper

By engaging in policy dialogue and reviewing available policy choices, Stimson’s team was able to apply the innovative strategies of water and energy management to Vietnam’s complex reality, presenting realistic and usable alternatives at various  senior ministerial meetings.

Long term commitment to policy change


The team has productive interactions with five key ministries in Hanoi to promote the strategy, including Vietnam’s prime minister’s office.

Mekong Basin Connect team hosts 12 capacity-building workshops to explore alternative development strategies

Team has a discussion with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha about the risks of blasting rapids in the Mekong. The PM later confirms he will not support destroying river rapids.

Stimson convenes 54 government officials and other stakeholders from the Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam region in Hanoi to explore practical ways to implement basin-wide planning


Team has two interactions with Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to promote the strategy.

Program Director Brian Eyler and consortium-partner Jake Brunner speak at the inaugural U.S. – Vietnam Energy Security Dialogue sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Eyler, on behalf of the Stimson Center, delivers the only statement from a non-governmental organization at the at the ministerial meeting of the Mekong Summit in Siem Reap.

The Prime Minister of Vietnam’s decides to significantly increase the purchase of cross-border electricity from Laos.


Prime Minister’s office endorses  a new MOU  for importing power from Laos which will likely purchase power from less-impactful dams and replace the most damaging dams with solar and wind assets.

Essential partnerships

Tackling a problem as big as the Mekong takes patience and partners. Stimson has built longstanding and productive relationships that are essential to its impact:

  • Vietnam Office of Government
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam
  • Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam
  • Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade Vice-Ministers in charge of energy and power
  • IUCN

Mekong Basic Connect is a project of the Southeast Asia program.

The Southeast Asia program addresses major challenges facing the region today, ranging from the food-water-energy security nexus in the Mekong Basin to political and economic issues of ASEAN integration. Through a combination of our unique analytical perspective and cooperation with regional partners from all sectors, we strive to offer pragmatic steps forward.

To support this work, contact Sarah Savoy.

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