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2 Nov 2020

Xia Zhijian, China Dialogue

China: Experts say official guidelines on Belt & Road Initiative are neither binding nor specific enough to be implementable

Wikimedia Commons

"How can the Belt and Road better protect biodiversity?", 23 October 2020

[...] Chinese financial institutions and businesses have prominent roles in the Batang Toru hydropower project, which is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It is just one example of the impact the BRI is having – or could have – on biodiversity. This was highlighted in a paper from Malaysian, Burmese, Chinese, Australian, British and American scientists published in the academic journal Biological Conservation in July this year, which analysed the possible impact of planned BRI projects on biodiversity in Southeast Asia. Based on their findings, the researchers called for BRI planning to take connectivity of ecosystems into account, and for the creation of “ecological corridors” to connect otherwise isolated flora and fauna.

Biodiversity under pressure

[...] The initiative has led to the construction of roads, railways, oil pipelines, ports and power stations in nations associated with it. According to the World Bank, BRI investment has now reached around US$575 billion. But despite the Chinese government’s insistence it will create a “Green Silk Road”, the environmental impact of many projects has caused controversy. This includes effects on ecosystems and their biodiversity. [...]

One feasible approach is to increase funding for BRI projects to allow for spending on “ecological infrastructure” that will mitigate their impacts. [...]

Although the Chinese government has already issued a number of documents on building a “Green BRI”, these mostly only offer guidance. They are neither binding nor specific enough to be implementable. For example, a 2017 document on creating a Green BRI mentions protection of biodiversity three times – but provides no specific measures. Similar issues are seen in other documents on management of overseas corporate investments, on green credit, and on environmental protection in overseas investments. Fuzzy language about what “should” happen and what is “encouraged” or “focussed on” make it next to impossible for the government to exercise oversight. [...]