$8 Trillion Chinese Belt and Road Investment Links Half of Earth in “Environmentally Riskiest Venture Ever Undertaken”

The Belt and Road Initiative will greatly influence the future of global trade. However, it may also promote permanent environmental degradation.

The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road or The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a development strategy proposed by the Chinese government that focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries, primarily the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and the ocean-going Maritime Silk Road (MSR). The initiative was known in English as the One Belt and One Road Initiative (OBOR) until 2016.
The Chinese government calls the initiative “a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future,” while critics call it a push by China to take a larger role in global affairs with a China-centered trading network.
A global expert on infrastructure says that China’s plan to crisscross half of the Earth with massive transportation and energy projects is environmentally the riskiest venture ever undertaken.

“China has enormous ambitions,” said Distinguished Professor William Laurance from James Cook University in Australia. “But with that comes enormous responsibilities.”

China in red, Members of the AIIB in orange, the six corridors[1] in black

Map of Asia, showing the OBOR initiative

Credit: Lommes  , Wikimedia Commons
Writing in the Nature Sustainability journal, Professor Laurance joined an international team urging China to undertake rigorous strategic planning before embarking on its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, which will ultimately span at least 64 nations across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Pacific region.By mid-century, the Belt and Road could involve 7,000 infrastructure projects and US $8 trillion in investment, the researchers said.

According to the WWF, the initiative could impact over 1,700 critical biodiversity areas and hundreds of threatened species.

Credit:  James Cook University

“China claims its Belt and Road will be a blueprint for responsible development, but that’s going to require it to fundamentally change the way it does business internationally,” said Professor Laurance.

“Too many Chinese firms and financiers operating overseas are poorly controlled by their government–in large part because they are so profitable,” he said.

“In the last two decades, I’ve seen countless examples of aggressive and even predatory exploitation by Chinese firms, especially in developing nations with weak environmental controls.”

The authors say China has a unique opportunity to change its model of development and become a world-leader in sustainability.

“China is doing a much better job of improving environmental safeguards inside China than internationally,” said Professor Laurance.

“It’s produced a mountain of green documents and promises about the Belt and Road, but a leopard doesn’t just change its spots overnight.”

“China has a unique opportunity, but if it’s ‘business as usual’ then I think the costs for the environment and economic risks for investors could be flat-out scary.”

The team includes researchers from Australia, China, Germany, Portugal, Canada, and the U.S.

Contacts and sources:
Alistair Bone

James Cook University
Citation:  Environmental challenges for the Belt and Road Initiative Fernando Ascensão, Lenore Fahrig, Anthony P. Clevenger, Richard T. Corlett, Jochen A. G. Jaeger, William F. Laurance & Henrique M. Pereira  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-018-0059-3


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