The world's two most dangerous environmental trends

What are the two biggest direct threats to our natural world?  One could debate this question endlessly but here are my personal candidates for two recent developments that are especially environmentally perilous:

Growing perils for nature...

Growing perils for nature...

1) The G20's stunning plans for infrastructure expansion

Believe it or not, the leaders of the G20 nations -- the world's 20 largest economies -- committed during their recent global summit in Brisbane, Australia to spend an astonishing 60-70 trillion U.S. dollars on new infrastructure projects by the year 2030

This staggering sum will come from a variety of sources, such as public-private partnerships, pension funds, bilateral aid, and the major development banks.  This will be the single biggest financial transaction in human history -- and the environmental impacts will be Earth-shaking

Expect massive increases in roads, hydroelectric dams, mining projects, gas lines, and power lines, all across the planet.  Such projects will open up many of the world's last surviving wild areas and lead to an avalanche of new development pressures.

2) The rise of the Chinese and Brazilian development banks

An equally alarming trend is that the nature of infrastructure funding is changing. 

Large funding bodies such as the World Bank and the African, Asian, and Inter-American Development banks -- which, after many years of bearing criticism, have worked to develop and implement some environmental safeguards -- are increasingly being supplanted by the heavily funded and far more aggressive Chinese (AIIB) and Brazilian (BNDES) development banks. 

We've previously critiqued BNDES, but the Chinese-dominated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is, arguably, even worse.

The Chinese and Brazilian banks are funding massive numbers of developments worldwide, and generally place a much lower priority on environmental concerns than do many other infrastructure funders and donors.      

Conservationists and scientists will have to redouble their efforts to meet the challenges posed by these two landmark -- and alarming -- trends.

-Bill Laurance


Neotropical rainforests under assault from infrastructure & mining

Everywhere you look across Central and South America, native ecosystems are being imperiled by an avalanche of new mining and infrastructure projects. 

Forests under assault in Panama  (photo by William Laurance)

Forests under assault in Panama (photo by William Laurance)

Consider just three examples:

- In Nicaragua, a massive interoceanic canal project threatens vast expanses of rainforest and other ecosystems.  It will imperil 4,000 square kilometers of forest and wetlands, slice across several key nature reserves, and cut through the MesoAmerican Biological Corridor.  This issue is so worrisome that the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, the world's leading scientific organization devoted to tropical research, issued a special resolution of concern.

- In Brazil, many protected areas are under assault from mining.  A paper just published in the leading journal Science shows that at least 20% of all Brazil´s strictly protected areas and indigenous reserves -- an area larger than the UK and Switzerland combined -- are under consideration for mining projects.  More than 44,000 square kilometers of Brazil's protected areas have been lost to mining and other developments since 2008.

- Across the Amazon basin and Andes, at least 150 major hydroelectric dams have been proposed or are under construction.  These projects will not only flood large expanses of forest but their associated road projects will imperil some of the basin's most remote and biologically important areas.  For instance, it is estimated that 12 dams proposed for the Tapajós River in Brazil would result in nearly 1 million hectares of additional forest loss by 2032.

Who is responsible for this tsunami of forest-destroying projects?  There is no single cause, but China's unquenchable thirst for natural resources, the aggressive Brazilian development bank BNDES, and ambitious regional development schemes such as IIRSA are all leading contributors.

No one wants to halt responsible economic development, but this is a feeding frenzy.  Unless scientists and conservationists have a louder voice, some of the world's most important environments could be lost forever.


The mega-bank that's imperiling the Amazon

Behind the avalanche of hydroelectric dams, roads, and other major infrastructure projects criss-crossing the Amazon rainforest is a very big bank--a bank that seems eager to invest in some of the most environmentally damaging projects in the world.  What is this bank?

Amazon rivers and forests are in trouble... (photo by William Laurance)

Amazon rivers and forests are in trouble... (photo by William Laurance)

The bank in BNDES--Brazil’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development. 

BNDES is having such a big impact that it's attracting special interest from Mongabay, the influential environmental website, which has established a journalism prize to investigate the bank and its activities.

BNDES is behind five massive new dams in the Peruvian Amazon and a slew of other dam projects in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Guyana

As reported by leading Amazon researcher and ALERT member Philip Fearnside, dams funded by BNDES could affect aquatic ecosystems in virtually all of the river basins in Amazonia, and are also promoting networks of new roads, population movements, and deforestation throughout the region.

BNDES is responsible for a large chunk of the current dam-building spree that could dramatically transform the Amazon.  More than 150 large Amazon dams are under construction or planned for the next 20 years, with 80% of these likely to cause major deforestation as a result of forest flooding and associated road-building.

Among the worst of these is the notorious Belo Monte dam, the world's third-largest hydroelectric dam, currently being built on a major tributary of the Amazon river.

Remember the name--BNDES.  This is one bank that needs to be watched and scrutinized carefully.