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28 Dec 2019

The ASEAN Post

Environmental impacts of Belt and Road Initiative has not gained proper attention, study reveals

“China’s BRI negatively impacting the environment”, 24 December 2019

… environmental design requirements are not integrated in the project cycle – especially in early-stage project planning – the consequences of which Southeast Asians are sure to pay dearly for in the years to come.

A study titled ‘Greening the Belt and Road Initiative’ released by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and HSBC… found that apart from the lack of information on sustainable and green investment opportunities, getting the BRI [Belt and Road Initiative] to “go green” has not gained the proper attention of the financial fraternity nor the wider private sector.

Rich in biodiversity, Southeast Asia’s fragile ecosystems and the many communities which depend on them for survival are especially at risk due to the BRI’s ever-expanding list of infrastructure projects.

Chinese-backed hydropower projects along the Mekong River – which spans Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – have seen dams cause river flow changes and block fish migration, leading to a loss of livelihood for communities there which live-off the river.

Fish stocks have declined in recent years due to hydropower dams built upstream in Cambodia and neighbouring countries, according to the Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT)…

Apart from the loss of flora and fauna, deforestation in areas such as the Pan Borneo Highway – which spans Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei – also causes landslides, floods and other disaster mitigation concerns.

Failure to protect the environment means that local communities will have to find other ways to provide ecosystem services such as clean water and air.

The WWF has listed over 1,700 critical biodiversity spots and 265 threatened species that will be adversely affected by the BRI.

This is already happening in Indonesia, where the habitat of the world’s rarest great ape – the Tapanuli orangutan – is at risk from a US$1.6 billion hydroelectric power plant currently being built in Sumatra’s Batang Toru forest highlands. One of Indonesia’s most biodiverse regions, the Batang Toru forest is also home to the critically endangered Sumatran tiger and Sunda pangolin…

A study published earlier this month in the Current Biology journal found that the BRI could potentially introduce more than 800 alien invasive species – including 98 amphibians, 177 reptiles, 391 birds and 150 mammals – into several countries along its many routes and developments, threatening their ecosystems.

With some species capable of wreaking havoc worth billions of dollars on a nation’s agricultural exports, the study titled ‘Risks of Biological Invasion on the Belt and Road’ presents a chilling side-effect of the BRI’s network of roads, railways and pipelines…

 “We don’t want conservation to be an afterthought. Before the developers make the roads, dams or pipelines, they should incorporate ecological values in their plans,” added Dr Campos-Arceiz, who… co-authored a paper titled ‘Biodiversity conservation needs to be a core value of China’s Belt and Road Initiative’ …