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China-financed projects around the world are dangerous for nature and native people

(Black Alexander Simmons, Kevin P. Gallagher and Rebecca Ray, Boston University)

Boston (USA), Sep 24 (The Conversation) China is shaping the future of economic development through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which will make it better than the rest of the world through trade and infrastructure. Ways to Connect is an ambitious multi-billion dollar international project.

Through this project, China is providing funding to more than 100 countries for roads, railways, power plants, ports and other infrastructure projects that they have long needed.

This massive effort can generate macroeconomic growth for the countries involved and the global economy. The World Bank estimates that the Belt and Road Initiative’s financial contribution could increase the GDP of the countries that benefit from it by up to 3.4 percent. But along with development comes human movement and economic activity into new areas that can fuel deforestation, illegal wildlife trafficking, and the spread of invasive species. These projects are usually approved without the permission of the local native communities.

In a newly published study, our team of development economists and conservation scientists from China’s overseas development finance projects for indigenous lands, species threatened with extinction, protected areas and potentially important habitats for global biodiversity conservation. Risk mapping.

Our study examined 594 development projects funded by the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China. We created a database to take into account the characteristics and locations of projects supported by these two ‘policy banks’ between 2008 and 2019. During this period, these banks pledged over US$462 billion in development finance to 93 countries.

About half of all projects financed by these two banks are located within potentially significant habitats. According to the International Finance Corporation, a World Bank unit that promotes private investment in developing countries, these are areas that may need protection that may need special protection. One in three projects in China fall into existing protected areas, and nearly one in four passes through land owned or maintained by the indigenous peoples of the region.

Overall, on calculations, we found that China’s development finance portfolio could affect up to 24 per cent of the world’s amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles, whose existence is considered threatened.


The greatest risk is in South America, Central Africa and Southeast Asia. The projects that China’s policy banks are funding in Benin, Bolivia and Mongolia all pass through existing protected areas or potentially important habitats. More than 65 percent of Chinese development projects in Ethiopia, Laos and Argentina are located within the areas of their native inhabitants.

China’s rapid economic growth since the 1980s has made it one of the world’s top polluters. Now its leaders are working to improve their country’s environmental performance. China has created a national system of protected areas and pledged to make its domestic economy carbon-neutral by 2060. But it has not made any such improvement in its external debt.

Comparing the World Bank funded projects from 2008-2019 with our list of Chinese projects on foreign soil, we found that China’s projects on average, mainly in the energy sector, pose significantly higher risks to nature and indigenous lands .

At the same time, the World Bank has also given substantial credit for projects in high risk areas. Notably, the roads, railways and other transportation projects it financed during this period pose as much risk to biodiversity as similar projects funded by China.

For example, in 2016 the World Bank financed a major road project in the Republic of the Congo, involving areas of Native peoples. This not only caused them loss of property and livelihood, but also led to violence. A formal internal investigation found that there had been ‘serious damage’ and directed the World Bank to be more careful with future projects.

China has an opportunity with the Belt and Road Initiative to improve infrastructure networks around the world in a way that is both sustainable and inclusive. It recently published a report by experts urging Chinese investors to respect the host country’s environmental standards.

(The Conversation) Mansi Pawanesh



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