WWF: China’ s New Silk Road should be green
On May 14-15, world leaders from 30 countries gathered on One Belt One Road Beijing’s Forum to discuss China’ ambitious project. The geographical scope of the New Silk Road is unequalled. Currently, at least 64 countries fall within its ambit and the number is increasing. Its terrestrial route aims to cut across Central Asia, Russia, India, Pakistan and Europe. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin was among key guests of the Forum. WWF Russia acknowledges the potential benefits of the Eurasian infrastructure development efforts proposed by the government of China yet calls all parties involved to follow the main pillar of sustainable development — finding a balance between social, environmental and economic priorities.
The government of China already made an important step towards minimizing environmental risks. China’s Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Foreign Affairs have recently issued “Belt and Road Ecological and Environmental Cooperation Plan”. The document affirms the principles of sustainable development for the New Silk Road Projects.
Yet it may take years for this document to be put in practice whereas investors are already pushing infrastructure projects forward. WWF has undertaken “The Belt and Road Initiative. WWF Recommendations and Spatial Analysis” of the possible environmental impacts along the New Silk Road which initially proposed 6 land-based economic corridors. It revealed that the project might impact on biodiversity and natural resources by looking at where proposed corridors may be located in relation to important areas for biodiversity and natural resources. Specifically, the Analysis showed that New Silk Road corridors overlap with the range of 265 threatened species including 39 critically endangered species and 81 endangered species, 46 biodiversity hotspots or Global 200 Ecoregions including Russia’s biodiversity hotspot – the Russian Far East.
The planned New Silk Road transportation corridors may create additional risks for the habitats of the Amur tiger, the Amur leopard, and other threatened species including the Oriental stork, Red-crowned crane, and other migratory birds.
Indeed, infrastructure development can generate enormous economic benefits, but if it isn’t planned carefully, it can have unintended negative environmental consequences, which in turn can jeopardize the success of the project. Much of the damage that infrastructure development can cause, can potentially be avoided if countries of the NSR including Russia, Central Asia, and China adopt careful decisions about location, an integrated and coherent approach to development planning, and sensitive construction methods and other mitigation measures. WWF recommends that all countries should follow the ESPOO (Environmental Impact) Convention (1991) as well as Helsinki Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (1992).
“Still it is urgently needed to create a GIS open for project developers, companies and all interested parties that will include data on all protected areas including the regional ones”, notes Evgeny Shvarts, head of conservation policy at WWF Russia.
“It is also important to set up a system to educate companies and investors from China the requirements of environmental laws, to introduce a ban to finance technologies of poor energy saving and resource efficiency, and to introduce another similar measures.”