Just six months later, in September 2011, Thein Sein suspended work on the Myitsone Dam, a $3.6 billion project to be financed by China on the Irrawaddy River to provide electricity to China’s Yunnan province just across the border. Among the five specific issues he cited were the environmental concerns and the negative impacts on local livelihoods. A true mega-project, the dam would have been the 15th largest hydroelectric project in the world, creating a reservoir larger than the area of Singapore.
Then, in January 2012, the government cancelled a 4,000-megawatt Thai-financed coal-burning power plant. At a press conference announcing the decision, the minister of electrical power cited the “fear of the adverse effects on the environment.”
These were not one-off decisions. Green legislation mandating environmental and social impact assessments has been passed by the parliament. The old Ministry of Forestry has become the new Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry. And earlier this year, its minister – Win Tun – described to me plans for a new Department of Environmental Conservation, now being formed, empowered to implement the new laws.