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 Scientists critique Transport Strategy of Asian Infrastructure Development Bank

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3 July 2018

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank
Transport Sector Strategy
Email: ts.consultation@aiib.org  

Dear Sir/Madam:

Re: AIIB draft Transport Sector Strategy

As leading scientists in the fields of environmental science and international development, we would like to express the following perspectives and concerns about the draft AIIB Transport Sector Strategy, which we have evaluated (along with other AIIB documents) in considerable detail.

We have broken our comments down into three general concerns, and five specific requests:

General Concern 1
From our perspective, the AIIB strategy is likely to facilitate infrastructure projects that will fail or cause irrevocable damage environmentally.  

The strategy’s only real allusions to ‘greening’ infrastructure involve reducing carbon emissions — by reducing traffic jams and attempting to slim down massive emissions from project construction.

This is very serious deficiency because, in the many remote and wild areas where AIIB-supported projects will be constructed, far and away the biggest impacts of infrastructure expansion are to open lands to a Pandora’s box of new environmental pressures—such as deforestation, habitat fragmentation, fires, wildlife poaching, illegal mining, and land-grabbing.  

This Pandora’s-box issue of secondary or indirect effects—which could easily overwhelm the positive intent of projects—is utterly central to any discussion about infrastructure.  For us, a failure even to mention it in the draft Transport Strategy raises immediate concerns.

General Concern 2
The draft AIIB Transport scheme does not even mention the profound need for Strategic Land-Use Planning and Strategic Environmental Assessments.  

Developing infrastructure strategy on a project-by-project basis, in a vacuum of national- and regional-level strategic plans and assessments, has been repeatedly shown to be an enormous strategic mistake.  The beneficial impacts of the scheme will undoubtedly be higher, and any significant economic risks lessened, if the strategy mainstreams its work in the context of strategic national and regional plans and assessments. 
The remaining and increasingly fragmented natural world is a complex mosaic of biodiversity hotspots, critical migration corridors for wildlife, remnant habitats for endangered species, and rare ecosystems.  Advancing transport infrastructure projects without the benefit of strategic land-use, environmental, and social assessments is akin to conducting major surgery while blindfolded.   

In our view, strategic planning is the most vital requirement needed to modify or halt transport-infrastructure projects that would pose unacceptable environmental, social, economic, political, and reputational risks to the AIIB, its investors, and the host nations where projects will be located.

General Concern 3
Clearly, the AIIB places a premium on ‘efficiency’ and expedient evaluation and implementation of proposed transport-sector projects.  

However, such expediency can also create potentially serious risks, making it more difficult to (1) detect and ferret out corruption, which have long plagued major infrastructure projects; (2) identify key environmental and social perils, many of which are not simple or obvious; and (3) identify and avoid the broad suite of long-term environmental, social, economic, and political risks that can lead to project failure—wasting public money, stranding assets, and incurring major foreign debts for host nations.

Specific Requests
We urge the AIIB to make the following specific alterations to its draft Transport Sector Strategy, and more broadly to its entire infrastructure-assessment procedures:

1.    AIIB-supported infrastructure projects should not commence without first completing strategic land-use, environmental, and social planning for each geographic region. These can be comprehensively and strategically managed to be time- and cost-efficient. 

2.    Protecting biodiversity, critical habitats, key wildlife corridors, and rare ecosystems needs far more emphasis in all phases of transport-project planning, evaluation, and approval.  Failure to include these aspects in planning and risk assessment of development projects has led to many of the problems that most of the world now faces in the health of its ecosystems, which support economic development. 

3.    AIIB-supported projects must limit the ‘Pandora’s Box’ of illegal or unplanned activities that typically follow big infrastructure projects and create financial, economic, and ecological risks to countries and regions.  This must especially be averted by avoiding projects in wild or rare ecosystems whose degradation or loss poses long-term risks and costs to these countries and regions.

4.    The AIIB’s intent to move ‘efficiently’ with streamlined assessment procedures creates serious risks that important environmental, socio-economic dangers, and political will be missed or inadequately understood prior to project approval.

5.    The AIIB’s “Environmental and Social Framework" is too vague and effectively toothless to prevent many of the environmental, social, financial, and reputational risks that have long bedevilled transport-sector projects.  These deficiencies must be recognized and explicitly compensated for during project planning and evaluation.  A failure to do so will almost certainly result in poor outcomes for the AIIB, its investors, and its host nations.

For the reasons outlined above, it is our considered view that the AIIB will face serious reputational and economic or financial risks—as well as concerted resistance from the scientific community and other key stakeholders—if it proceeds without fundamentally revising its draft Transport Sector Strategy.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide these constructive and critical comments.


Distinguished Professor William F. Laurance
Australian Laureate & Prince Bernhard Chair in International Nature Conservation
Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science
Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences
Director of the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science
President (Emeritus), Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
James Cook University

Professor Jie Wu
Faculty of Business Administration
Associate Editor, Asian Business & Management
University of Macau
Macau, CHINA

Professor Phoebe Barnard
Affiliate Professor
University of Washington
Bothell, Washington, USA

Dr Mohammed Alamgir
Institute of Forestry and Environmental Sciences
University of Chittagong
Chittagong, BANGLADESH

Associate Professor Gopalasamy Reuben Clements
Department of Biological Sciences
Sunway University
Selangor, MALAYSIA

Dr Jedediah Brodie
Craighead Endowed Chair of Conservation
Division of Biological Sciences & Wildlife Biology Program
University of Montana
Montana, USA

Professor Lian Pin Koh
Adjunct Professor, University of Adelaide
Principal (Vice President), Gordon and Betty Moore Center for Science
Conservation International

Professor Philip Fearnside
Fellow of the Brazilian Academy of Science
Winner of Brazil’s National Ecology Prize, the UN Global 500 award, the Conrad Wessel Prize, and the Chico Mendes Prize
National Institute for Amazonian Research (INPA)
Manaus, BRAZIL

Professor Corey Bradshaw
Fellow of the Royal Society of South Australia
Australian Ecology Research Award Winner
Founder of ConservationBytes.com
Flinders University

Dr Jean-Philippe Puryvaud
Director, Sigur Nature Trust
Tamil Nadu, INDIA

Professor James Watson
Interim Director, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science
University of Queensland

Dr Francisco Dallmeier
Director, Center for Conservation and Sustainability
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Washington, D.C., USA

Dr Carol X. Garzon-Lopez
Founder of Verde-Elemental.org
Universidad de Los Andes
Vegetation Ecology and Physiology

Dr Joshua Linder
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
James Madison University
Virginia, USA

Associate Professor Martine Maron
ARC Future Fellow
Deputy Director, Theatened Species Recovery Hub
University of Queensland

Dr Gabriella Fredriksson
Knighted ‘Order of the Golden Mark’ by the Netherlands
Founder, ProNatura Foundation
Medan, Sumatra

Dr L. Roman Carrasco
Assistant Professor
Department of Biological Sciences
National University of Singapore
Dr Tremaine Gregory
Research Scientist
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Center for Conservation and Sustainability
National Zoological Park
Washington, D.C., USA

Dr Noelle G. Beckman
Assistant Professor
Department of Biology & Ecology Center
Utah State University
Logan, Utah, USA

Dr Mahmoud Ibrahim Mahmoud
Director, Remote Sensing Unit
National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency

Dr Nandini Velho
Royal Bank of Scotland ‘Earth Heroes’ Award
Wildlife Service Award: Sanctuary Asia
Earth Institute Fellow
Columbia University
New York, USA

Dr Mason Campbell
Field Director, Asia-Pacific Program
Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science
College of Science & Engineering
James Cook University

Professor Pierre-Michel Forget
President, Society for Tropical Ecology
President (Emeritus), Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle

Dr Cagan Sekercioglu
Whitley Gold Award Winner
Department of Biology
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, USA

Dr J. Marc Foggin
Acting Director, Mountain Societies Research Institute
University of Central Asia

Associate Professor Susan G. Laurance
President (Emeritus), Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
ARC Future Fellow
Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science
College of Science and Engineering
James Cook University

Dr Umesh Srinivasan
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey, USA

Associate Professor Craig Morley
BP Gold Award Winner
Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology

Dr Hadrien P. A. Vanthomme
Research Ecologist
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Center for Conservation and Sustainability
Washington, D.C., USA
Professor John Terborgh (Emeritus)
Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences USA
MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award Winner
Director, Center for Tropical Conservation
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina, USA

Dr Eric Katovai
School of Science and Technology
Pacific Adventist University

Dr Thomas Struhsaker
Adjunct Professor
Department of Evolutionary Anthropology
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina, USA

Dr Alex Mark Lechner
School of Environmental and Geographical Sciences
University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
Selangor, MALAYSIA

Professor Thomas E. Lovejoy
Official Environmental Advisor to former U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton
Former Chief Biodiversity Advisor to the World Bank
Fellow of the American Association for Arts & Sciences
Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Department of Environmental Science and Policy
George Mason University
Virginia, USA