Commentary: Activists protest Batang Turo Dam project's catastrophic impact on communities & biodiversity

Author: Michelle Chang, South China Morning Post, Published on: 9 March 2019

"China's institutions and banks need help from the world's civil society to ensure the Belt and Road Initiative remains green", 10 March 2019

Activists of 12 countries conducted rallies in London, Hong Kong and Nairobi...to protest financing by Bank of China to build the Batang Toru Dam in Indonesia's North Sumatra, due to its catastrophic impact on communities and biodiversity.

If built, scientists say that the dam will doom the Tapanuli orangutan, which was only discovered in 2017, almost to certain extinction. It would also impoverish downstream communities who rely on the natural flow of the river for their livelihood.

...Financial institutions bankrolling the BRI are also coming under fire for failing to constructively engage and listen to civil society.

...Unless the bank meaningfully engages with Indonesian and international civil society on the urgent biodiversity and social risks of the Batang Toru Dam, and goes beyond issuing ineffective boilerplate responses, these kinds of protests will most likely continue.

To be fair, the Chinese government is actually far ahead of the US and European governments when it comes to promoting environmental protection in their investments abroad.

...While these are positive steps, Chinese banks themselves still fall below international best practice when it comes to engagement with civil society.

...The simple truth is that Chinese financial institutions will find it difficult to turn their central government's green policies into practice without the help of civil society....

These groups have served as a critical resource in helping banks verify and "ground truth," providing direct information of what's happening on the ground in the real world, versus what's written merely on paper. Regrettably, this appears to be one of the hardest lessons for Chinese banks to learn so far.

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Related companies: Bank of China