China is on an infrastructure rampage, committing $8 trillion (yes, trillion) for its 'Belt and Road Initiative' to 7,000 projects in 64 nations across half the world. But given China's environmental track record - they denied they were the world's largest CO2 polluter well into the 2000s - there is concern that they are engaging in the most environmentally risky venture ever. Communist dictatorships are immune to the $2 billion in environmental activism that cripples science and technology in the western world. Yet one of them, the World Wildlife Federation, is trying anyway, and notes their aggressive moves could impact over 1,700 critical biodiversity areas and hundreds of threatened species.
"China claims its Belt and Road will be a blueprint for responsible development, but that's going to require it to fundamentally change the way it does business internationally," said Distinguished Professor William Laurance from James Cook University in Australia in a statement. "Too many Chinese firms and financiers operating overseas are poorly controlled by their government--in large part because they are so profitable. In the last two decades I've seen countless examples of aggressive and even predatory exploitation by Chinese firms, especially in developing nations with weak environmental controls."
Obviously more infrastructure is a good thing, it's not like Europe and the US are doing much to help, and buying prestige is a time-honored technique: the US rebuilt both Germany and Japan after World War II. The authors note that China has a unique opportunity to change its model of development and become a world-leader in sustainability.
But for now the paper worries that a mountain of green documents and promises about the Belt and Road are just for show.