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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Development at what cost? Assessment of development policy impacts on sustainable development in the Amazonian Basin

Elliott More

Development at what cost?  Assessment of development policy impacts on sustainable development in the Amazonian Basin


Socioeconomic growth and development in Brazil have come from the exploitation of its vast natural resources, as civilisations have done ever since the Mesopotamia five thousand years ago. Overuse of these resources past the carrying capacity of the natural systems can lead to overshoot and eventual collapse of the very systems which actually support human civilisation.

Brazil’s development has been fuelled by land use change in the Amazon Basin which, as a nation, it recognises is unsustainable and has put in place strong environmental protection on further use of forest land. However the recent approval of the Belo Monte dam project reveals the very real and compelling pressures that exist on decision makers to approve development projects that come at the ‘cost’ of environmental damage and impacts to local people and indigenous communities.

National growth forecasts for the next 20 years demand the continued construction of hydropower dams throughout the Amazon Basin, despite the growing opposition both nationally and internationally. The role of hydropower within a national sustainable development policy is considered, examining the ‘costs’ in relation to other land use changes including the much greater impacts resulting from agriculture.

Assuming that the Belo Monte dam will proceed, a knowing trade-off to mitigate the impacts of the dam is considered using the recently agreed REDD incentive to leverage market forces to reduce deforestation and land conflicts from agricultural expansion.

Policy recommendations are made to proceed with the dam to meet present development needs, whilst in conjunction developing a long term sustainable strategy to minimise the impacts of further development projects in the Amazon Basin and protect the vast natural resources which provide many services at the global scale which future generations cannot afford to be deprived of.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.