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China is financing infrastructure projects around the world – many could harm nature and Indigenous communities

Chinese engineers pose after welding the first seamless rails for the China-Laos railway in Vientiane, Laos, June 18, 2020. Kaikeo Saiyasane/Xinhua via Getty Images

China is financing infrastructure projects around the world – many could harm nature and Indigenous communities

Chinese engineers pose after welding the first seamless rails for the China-Laos railway in Vientiane, Laos, June 18, 2020. Kaikeo Saiyasane/Xinhua via Getty Images

China is financing infrastructure projects around the world – many could harm nature and Indigenous communities

Chinese engineers pose after welding the first seamless rails for the China-Laos railway in Vientiane, Laos, June 18, 2020. Kaikeo Saiyasane/Xinhua via Getty Images

China is financing infrastructure projects around the world – many could harm nature and Indigenous communities

Chinese engineers pose after welding the first seamless rails for the China-Laos railway in Vientiane, Laos, June 18, 2020. Kaikeo Saiyasane/Xinhua via Getty Images

This mammoth effort could generate broad economic growth for the countries involved and the global economy. The World Bank estimates that recipient countries’ gross domestic product could rise by up to 3.4% thanks to Belt and Road financing.

Blake Alexander Simmons, Boston University; Kevin P. Gallagher, Boston University, and Rebecca Ray, Boston University

China is shaping the future of economic development through its Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious multi-billion-dollar international push to better connect itself to the rest of the world through trade and infrastructure. Through this venture, China is providing over 100 countries with funding they have long sought for roads, railways, power plants, ports and other infrastructure projects.

This mammoth effort could generate broad economic growth for the countries involved and the global economy. The World Bank estimates that recipient countries’ gross domestic product could rise by up to 3.4% thanks to Belt and Road financing.

But development often expands human movement and economic activity into new areas, which can promote deforestation, illegal wildlife trafficking and the spread of invasive species. Past initiatives have also sparked conflict by infringing on Indigenous lands. These projects were often approved without the recognition or consent of local Indigenous communities.

In a newly published study, our team of development economists and conservation scientists mapped the risks Chinese overseas development finance projects pose for Indigenous lands, threatened species, protected areas and potential critical habitats for global biodiversity conservation. We found that more than 60% of China’s development projects present some risk to wildlife or Indigenous communities.

The Belt and Road Initiative is designed to connect China to the world.

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