A global expert on infrastructure has warned that China’s Belt and Road initiative to crisscross half the Earth with transportation is the riskiest environmental project ever undertaken.
China is planning to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure in countries along the old Silk Road to link it with Europe, with the aim of allowing global businesses to tap into new markets and boost economics.
However, the so-called Belt and Road project could be the riskiest ever undertaken in terms of environmental cost, according to Professor William Laurance of James Cook University in Australia.
“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,” he warned in a statement.
Many Chinese firms and financiers operating overseas are “poorly controlled by their government—in large part because they are so profitable”, he added, explaining: “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 Belt and Road Initiative will ultimately span at least 64 nations across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Pacific region. By mid-century, it could involve 7,000 infrastructure projects and 8 trillion US dollars in investment, according to the researchers.
Consequently, it could impact over 1,700 critical biodiversity areas and hundreds of threatened species, said WWF.
Professor Laurance highlighted: “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.”
Nevertheless, China has a unique opportunity to change its model of development and become a world-leader in sustainability, according to Professor Laurance’s report.
Photo credit: Jonathan Kos-Read/ CC BY-ND 2.0