Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Dark Legacy of China’s Drive for Global Resources

As China pursues a startling array of energy, mining, logging, agricultural, and infrastructure projects on virtually every continent, it is having an unprecedented environmental impact on the planet.

Timber being trucked through the northern Laos province of Louang Namtha on its way to the Chinese border. (Credit: Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Across the globe, on nearly every continent, China is involved in a dizzying variety of resource extraction, energy, agricultural, and infrastructure projects — roads, railroads, hydropower dams, mines — that are wreaking unprecedented damage to ecosystems and biodiversity.  This onslaught will likely be made easier by the Trump administration’s anti-environmental tack and growing disengagement internationally. 

To be fair, China is also engaged in green activities, such as investing heavily in solar and wind energy, cracking down on its notorious air pollution, and replanting millions of acres of its denuded lands.  And it’s in the process of banning the domestic sale of ivory, which should slow the epic slaughter of Africa and Asia’s elephants.  But China’s burnishing of its green credentials is in many ways being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of environmental degradation that its policies and corporations are causing worldwide.

The country’s international resource push began in earnest in 1999, when China’s “Going Global Strategy” liberalized investment policies and provided financial incentives to encourage overseas investments and contracts.  Bulging with foreign reserves and with Chairman Deng Xiaoping’s official blessing that “to become rich is glorious,” China’s international investments — and their impact on the natural world — exploded.  

China’s most profound environmental impacts revolve around its drive to acquire minerals, fossil fuels, agricultural commodities, and timber from other nations.  This often involves deals to build large-scale roads, railways, and other infrastructure to move natural resources from interior areas to coastal ports for export.  The rapid pace of such activities continues despite a recent slowdown in the Chinese economy, with major projects now being planned in the developing world.

From 2004 to 2014 the China Export-Import Bank played a leading role in funding $10 billion in East African railway projects, many of which were constructed by Chinese corporations.  The Chinese are now helping fund and build major rail networks in Kenya and Uganda, one leg of which is planned to pass through Nairobi National Park.

Even in the remote interior of the Congo Basin, Chinese companies are heavily involved in road-construction, mining, and logging projects, as I recently observed in Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. China also is proposing a 3,000-mile railway that would slice completely across South America, cutting through remote forests and savannas to transport soy, timber, and other goods to the Pacific coast, where they can be shipped to China.  The $60 billion price tag has given Peru pause, but the project is still under discussion.

Read more at The Dark Legacy of China’s Drive for Global Resources

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