Is China’s Silk Road the Riskiest Environmental Project in History?

The  Tapanuli  orangutan,  a  desperately  endangered  species  with  only  800  individuals  alive,  is  being  imperiled  by  a  Chinese-funded  hydropower  project  in  Sumatra,  Indonesia.  (Image: (c) Maxime  Aliaga).
The Tapanuli orangutan, a desperately endangered species with only 800 individuals alive, is being imperiled by a Chinese-funded hydropower project in Sumatra, Indonesia. (Image: (c) Maxime Aliaga).

A global expert on infrastructure says that China’s plan to crisscross half of the Earth with massive transportation and energy projects is environmentally the riskiest venture ever undertaken. Distinguished Professor William Laurance from James Cook University in Australia notes:

Writing in the Nature Sustainability journal, Professor Laurance joined an international team urging China to undertake rigorous strategic planning before embarking on its “Belt and Road Initiative,” which will ultimately span at least 64 nations across Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Pacific region.

Map: Main trade corridors from and to China and important infrastructure and ports built or planned with Chinese investment. Areas in darker green colors have high environmental values. (Source: Mercator Institute for China Studies).

Map: Main trade corridors from and to China and important infrastructure and ports built or planned with Chinese investment. Areas in darker green colors have high environmental values. (Source: Mercator Institute for China Studies).

By mid-century, the Belt and Road could involve 7,000 infrastructure projects and US$8 trillion in investment, the researchers said.

Road-expansion projects are a major threat to wildlife, such as this road-killed Malayan Tapir in Malaysia (photo: (c) WWF-Malaysia).

Road-expansion projects are a major threat to wildlife, such as this road-killed Malayan Tapir in Malaysia (photo: (c) WWF-Malaysia).

According to the WWF, the initiative could impact over 1,700 critical biodiversity areas and hundreds of threatened species. Professor Laurance added:

A Chinese road-construction corporation clears rainforests in the Congo Basin (photo: William Laurance).

A Chinese road-construction corporation clears rainforests in the Congo Basin (photo: William Laurance).

The authors said China has a unique opportunity to change its model of development and become a world-leader in sustainability. Professor Laurance explained that:

Provided by: James Cook University [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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