WORLD: China’s Belt and Road Initiative–Economic Gold Mine or Environmental Hazard?

NICOLE ALAVERDIAN WRITES– China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is all but green– environmentally speaking, of course.

The BRI initiative, through trade, investment, and infrastructure with some 65 plus countries, may garner immense monetary green for the countries involved but also leads to severe global environmental damage, according to a new policy research report by the World Bank published earlier this year. In it, five academic professionals from Duke University outline the hazardous effects the initiative will have on the ecosystem. Snaking new roads and rail used for transporting goods between countries, says the report, “typically lead to the greatest absolute deforestation and eco-service losses.” Published in Current Biology, another report notes that the BRI could promote the spread of invasive species of reptiles, birds, mammals, and amphibians.

The Belt and Road Initiative is an ambitious development strategy that was first introduced by Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, in 2013. It involves infrastructure development and investment as well as strengthening trade with countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The set completion date is 2049.

To date, more than 60 countries have either signed this initiative or expressed interest in signing. So far, China has committed $1.4 trillion to BRI and is set to invest over $500 billion into 62 projects over the next five years. While two-thirds of the world’s population support it, some countries— including the U.S—see the project “as an unsettling extension of China’s rising power.” The shared global sentiment is that it “could be a Trojan horse for China-led regional development, military expansion, and Beijing-controlled institutions.”

Of note, most widely circulated environmental assessment reports have originated in the U.S. Could U.S. anti-BRI sentiment be  politically motivated? Especially given China’s rising economic star globally and the current trade war?

China’s Belt and Road initiative is one of the most significant geopolitical and economic developments of the 21st century; but with numerous environmental reports detailing possible ecological damage, does it have a future? According to the World Bank, China ought to significantly alter BRI standards, regulations, and policies before the project is too far down the road.

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