Environmental Aspects of Belt and Road Projects in Central Asia

The Environmental Aspects of Belt and Road Projects in Central Asia publication (available in Russian) provides a socio-environmental assessment of China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) projects in Central Asia.

The publication includes views of the communities’ representatives from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, along with a general assessment of the environmental prospects of the Belt and Road. In the conclusion, the authors provide recommendations for the state bodies of the Central Asian countries and China, as well as for community and NGO organizations in the region.

The publication was produced by the Social and Environmental Fund within the framework of the Environmental Assessment of the Belt and Road Initiative with the support of the US Embassy in the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Publication materials include:

Belt and Road: Prospects for Green Development?

Evgeny Simonov, Ph.D. Rivers without Borders Coalition

The article provides the overall assessment of the environmental prospects of the BRI and explores the existing global problems of the Green Silk Road.

As an example, the author offers the assessment of the China-Mongolia-Russia-Economic Corridor. The author provides recommendations for the Central Asian civil society on greening of BRI projects in the region.

Kazakhstan: Environmental Aspects of the 55 projects program

Sergey Solyanik, Crude Accountability Consultant

The program of industrial and investment cooperation between China and Kazakhstan within the framework of the BRI called the 55 projects program is characterized by the lack of information available to public. This fact has generated a lot of rumors and phobias in the country. The public is concerned about the potentially dangerous projects that can harm the health, wellbeing, and living environment of local communities.

The author argues that timely public access to detailed information on China’s projects can significantly improve communities’ perceptions of such projects and can help the authorities, together with the public, mitigate emerging environmental and social problems in the interests of the population and the environment of the country.

Kazakhstan: Violations of Pesticide Requirements by Chinese Agricultural Producer

Vadim Ni, Member of the Board of Trustees of the Social-Ecological Fund

In 2016, amendments to the Kazakhstan’s land use legislation sparked mass protests around the country. One of the main concerns associated with the extension of the lease term for agricultural land by foreigners concerned the environmental risks of illegal use of pesticides by agricultural producers from China.

As an illustration, the author uses the example of import and use of illegal pesticides by LLP Long Xin on agricultural land in eastern Kazakhstan.

Kyrgyzstan: Problems in Implementation of Mining Projects

Oleg Pechenyuk, NGO Independent Environmental Expertise

China is one of Kyrgyzstan’s most important economic partners. However, examples of China’s enterprises in Kyrgyzstan demonstrate that Chinese companies do not adhere to environmental requirements, do not inform the population about their activities, and do not monitor the implementation of environmental standards.

The article describes conflicts in the country’s gold mining industry, where public mistrust and dissatisfaction with companies’ activities often serves as a mobilizing factor for civil unrests.

Environmental and Legal Problems of Attracting Investments in the Economy of Tajikistan

Umidzhon Ulugov, Russian-Tajik University

The article examines Tajik-Chinese economic relations and the results of environmental monitoring of a number of joint projects. The author argues that solving pollution-related problems can be much more expensive than the economic benefits of China’s projects. An important factor in this matter is the responsibility of state authorities that oversee and control compliance with environmental legislation. The role of Tajikistan’s NGOs in monitoring compliance with the country’s legislation also cannot be underestimated.

Uzbekistan’s Participation in the Belt and Road Initiative

Natalia Shulepina, Sreda.uz

This journalistic review looks at the current economic cooperation between the two countries, the existing prospects, and risks of implementing BRI projects in Uzbekistan. It also provides a description of the environmental component of a number of projects and proposals on how to strengthen environmental control over their implementation in the country.

Recommendations:

Based on research and examples, the authors of the publications offered their recommendations for Central Asian governments and China, as well as for the Central Asian civil society and community organizations.

For government authorities of CA countries:

As priority steps to improve the situation with reducing impact and maintaining control in order to prevent negative environmental and social impacts of BRI projects, it is necessary to ensure:  

  • transparency of information on China’s investments and creation of equal treatment of their activity with foreign investors from other countries;
  • compliance by Chinese companies with environmental and other requirements of the national legislation and international treaties of the region’s countries;
  • conducting strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of plans and programs of cooperation with China within BRI to identify priorities and risks, and also to take into account environmental efficiency of the areas of activity and projects;
  • conducting strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of BRI large-scale infrastructure projects;  
  • conducting an effective environmental impact assessment (EIA) of BRI projects, the results of which must be discussed with local community and the public, and public opinion should be taken into consideration in the decision-making process;
  • using ‘green’ BRI standards and China’s ‘directory of green bonds’, as well as guidelines for China’s investments in a dialogue with Chinese companies, and the requirement for their compliance.

For China’s government authorities and companies

  • The Embassies of China to CA countries should improve information coverage of BRI projects and bilateral relations, including environmental impact issues. They should enter into a dialogue and develop public relations, respond promptly and openly to violations by Chinese companies, thus contributing to prompt resolution of conflicts in the interests of both parties.  
  • Chinese companies in CA should actively and effectively implement BRI ‘green’ standards in practice.  
  • China’s government agencies are expected to strictly pursue the BRI ‘green’ development policy in Central Asia and promptly respond to emerging problems and conflicts both through Embassies of China at the local level, and through Chinese national companies operating in the region.

For the communities of CA countries

  • Use China’s ‘green policies’ and investment guidelines in a dialogue with Chinese companies;
  • raise awareness of governments and other decision-makers in the region on the green development policy and environmental promises of China, as well as green development precedents in China itself;
  • require compliance with the Green Silk Road guidance documents and keep track of such compliance in practice through the example of specific projects in regions;  
  • contact the Chinese authorities about specific violations, with reference to environmental promises and standards of China;
  • contact the governments of their own countries with suggestions on the development of ‘a directory of technologies for green financing’ on the basis of similar documents that have been already published by the European Union and China;  
  • initiate SEA of BRI economic corridors projects and large-scale infrastructure projects in these corridors;
  • Speed up creation of environmental networks, protected area systems, and other preventive environmental measures before (or during) planning on the territory of large BRI projects;
  • Create green ratings for development projects, both funded within BRI and supported by investor countries and other donors, using transparent measurable evaluation criteria.

Authors of Review “Environmental Aspects of the Belt and Road Projects in Central Asia”