Actions of China pose grave threat to environment


China’s existentialism was recognized by strategist military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte about 200 years ago that “China is a sleeping giant; let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world”.

China’s rapid industrial expansion in recent decades has contributed to record levels of pollution, deforestation, and droughts. These are just several factors that are aggravating climate change and its consequences are being felt around the world. Policies and actions of China which completely disregard environmental concerns pose severe threat to the global economy and global health in long term and would be disastrous to the world.

China’s one such mega project is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – the world’s largest infrastructure project, launched in September 2013 to make better use of Chinese excess industrial capacity and capital. They include high speed railway lines, coal and hydropower plants, ports, roads, bridges and tourism developments. Many BRI projects have involved pushing roads and rail freight lines through some of the world’s biologically richest places.

In one of the studies, the World Wildlife Fund warned that the BRI could impact many critical biodiversity spots, endangering several threatened species. Hydropower plants are also an important source of greenhouse gas emissions creating a significant environmental footprint in terms of toxic waste and excessive water wastage.

In the Mekong River basin, where many BRI dam investments are undertaken and six additional dams on the mainstream river are planned that will result in 64 species becoming vulnerable, 30 becoming endangered and 2 becoming critically endangered. China intends to build 20 dams in the Tibetan portion of the Brahmaputra basin that are expected to generate 60,000 MW of power on the river Yarlung Tsangpo. Nine dams of this monster projects will generate 40,000 MW of power at the ‘Great Bend’, a few kilometres upstream of the India-China border. The Great Bend is on top of one of the most unstable onshore seismic zones in the world that has seen five of the most severe earthquakes in recorded history in just over a hundred years. A mega-earthquake can unleash a devastating flood upon upper north-eastern states of India.

The BRI projects have already sparked protests and are strongly opposed by conservationists as many developments specifically on indigenous and local communities throughout Asia, Africa & Latin America have deep impacts on forests and other ecosystems. China plans to invest in major projects such as massive deposit of high-grade iron ore in the Simandou Mountains of Guinea, abauxite-for-infrastructure deal in Ghana and construction of an oil pipeline between Uganda and Tanzania for which Beijing faced an intense backlash from communities from Africa who accused the developers for destroying ecosystems.

China is already world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases; the largest source of marine debris; the worst perpetrators of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; and the world’s largest consumer of trafficked wildlife and timber products.  They severely harm the environment with the overuse of coal, oil, and natural gas. The impact of overpopulation on the world’s wildlife is severe. China’s environmental problems are also spilling over into other countries through globalization, pollution and resource exploitation.

According to reports, China is the largest contributor of Sulfhur oxides and Chlorofluorocarbons to the atmosphere its dust and aerial pollutants are transported to its neighbouring countries. China is the largest producer of mercury and contributes to about one third of global mercury emissions to air.  Mercury is among the most dangerous environmental toxins that are spreading with air and water currents across national borders. Mercury pollution is usually associated with the fish consumption however; methyl mercury has been also reported in rice as well.

In China’s efforts to emerge as world’s greatest superpower, they have changed their strategy from defensive to offensive. Now, these projects are damaging other associated countries and the major funds of BRI are coming from China and they adhere to “host country principle” which would continue damaging.  Being criticized by world’s environmentalist they proposed the “Green BRI” concept in 2017 to improve the environmental credentials of the initiative, yet the assessment of how the BRI is tied to sustainability is still unsure.  However, there are reports that it lacks clear environmental guidelines, safety standards, and worker protections. 

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has reported that BRI corridors overlap with over 1,700 critical biodiversity sites and the ranges of could be adversely affected.  A study published in Nature Sustainability suggested BRI projects may lead to “permanent environmental degradation” by causing pollution, habitat loss, and wildlife mortality, among others.

Xi Jinping promised to the virtual audience of world leaders in United Nation General Assembly 2020 to become carbon neutral before 2060, and to begin cutting its emissions within the next ten years. However, they have not revealed how exactly these goals will be achieved. On the contrary it has been reported that China is currently building new coal-powered projects at more than 60 locations across the country.

Nature provides the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. Action must be urgently taken to restore this natural capital, to provide a sustainable future.  Financial institution must take a responsibility to ensure that these major projects are delivered in ways that can enhance our natural capital and ensure a net gain for our environment. These new infrastructure projects could no doubt leave a significant environmental footprint. Unless China doesn’t initiate de-carbonizing, there is no point of others making efforts of saving this planet.

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