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Key Biodiversity Areas and Impact Assessment in BRI-covered Areas

Biodiversity is fundamental for the survival and development of human society. Biodiversity protection is one of the core ecological environmental issues of global concern. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), with regional connectivity at its core, runs through a number of biodiversity hotspots, wilderness areas and other key conservation areas. Infrastructure construction, such as transportation construction, plays an important role in BRI cooperation. Infrastructure projects usually last for a long period of time and have big impacts on environment. If not properly planned, it will bring huge potential risks to biodiversity protection in the coming decades. Therefore, biodiversity conservation must be taken into serious account in BRI transportation infrastructure projects. The countries joining BRI are mainly located on the Eurasian continent, covering both the east and west ends of the continent. BRI region has diverse climates and diverse landforms. The distribution of water resources and land resources varies in this region, while its per capita water resources are less than 2/3 of the global average, and its per capita arable land is about 3/4 of the global average. BRI region has abundant natural resources thanks to its complex and comprehensive geological phenomena. The oil and gas resources of BRI region account for 58% and 54% of the world total respectively, with the Middle East being the most abundant. As for mineral resources, the reserves of ferrous and non-ferrous metals in the BRI region are among the top in the world, and the reserves of non-metallic minerals in the BRI region are also considerable. In order to further assess biodiversity status in the BRI region, this report carried out biodiversity visualization and sensitivity analysis of important regions of biodiversity. In order to recognize key areas for biodiversity, this report consolidated existing biodiversity databases including the World Database on Protected Areas, the World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas, WWF Priority Ecoregions, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and Biodiversity Hotspots Reserve database. Based on those databases, we used WWF-SIGHT to visualize important biodiversity areas along BRI region. The identification results showed that BRI important biodiversity areas are mainly concentrated in Southeast Asia, India-Myanmar border, Europe and South Africa, where their climate and landscape contribute to forming good habitats. In order to analyze the biodiversity sensitivity of the BRI region, this report selected typical biodiversity conservation habitats and identified the sensitivity factors suitable for the assessment areas according to natural, social and economic conditions. Through the comprehensive ecological sensitivity assessment, the ecological environment sensitivity was evaluated qualitatively and quantitatively by taking ecological system changes, animal and plant species and habitats changes, migration routes and other factors into overall consideration. The result showed that in terms of geographical distribution, from east to west, the overall potential impact of BRI infrastructure construction on important biodiversity regions is decreasing. From south to north, there is also a downward trend. Infrastructure construction has the greatest overall impact on BRI important biodiversity regions in Southeast Asia and the easternmost border area between China and Russia in Eurasia, where ecological environment sensitivity is high.

BRI International Green Development Coalition infrastructure impact on biodiversity in Central and Eastern Europe is generally less, where ecological environment sensitivity is relatively low. Development-wise, in developed regions in Europe, the overall impact of infrastructure construction on important biodiversity regions is relatively less, while in developing regions in Southeast Asia, Central China and border areas between China and Russia, the overall impact is relatively bigger. In terms of specific potential impacts, 32% of national protected areas in the BRI countries can be affected, and the BRI economic corridor overlaps with 265 threatened species distribution area. In general, there is a huge potential overlap between the BRI economic corridors and important areas of biodiversity. These areas are overlapped high risk areas where infrastructure construction may have negative impacts. Further in-depth analysis of these potential high risk areas is necessary to help identify potential solutions and create opportunities for ecological infrastructure investment. Among BRI projects’ impacts on biodiversity, the impact of transport infrastructure is particularly worthy of analysis. The transportation infrastructure plays an important role in promoting the economic development and trade and culture exchanges of the BRI region. However, as a linear network, transportation network cuts habitats with its long distance and wide range of traffic channels, bringing irreversible and far-reaching impacts on these surrounding ecosystems. The impacts of transportation infrastructure on biodiversity can be seen during construction period and operation period, including the deterioration of habitats and the disturbance of biological community structure, etc. The road and railway networks among BRI countries varies. In general, the railway networks of Mongolia-Russia region and China are relatively complex, while China has the longest highways. On the other hand, there is great space for railway and highway development in Central Europe and Central-Western Asia. This report visualized the overlaps of railway and road networks and important biodiversity conservation areas, and measured the impacts of the railway and road networks on biodiversity according to their degrees of overlapping. This report also selected a series of representative transportation infrastructure projects, and focused on measuring their impacts on vegetation cover and ecological resources, so as to specifically present the impacts of infrastructure on biodiversity sensitivity. The analysis results showed that the projects under construction have potential effect on ecological environment, while biodiversity losses are addressed after the establishment of those projects in couples of years. To further explore how to harmoniously deal with the interaction between infrastructure and biodiversity, this report took the Sino-Russian land sea intermodal transport corridor project as an example for further analysis. The international transport corridor between China and Russia is rich in species and has fragile and diverse ecosystems. At the same time, it is an important gateway for cooperation between China and Russia, and has an important strategic area for economic development. Therefore, it is important to address these ecological environment issues during the construction and development of infrastructure in this region. Many strategies have been adopted to protect the biodiversity of the area. These measures include: Improved project top design to reduce ecological risks; establishing transboundary nature reserves through multi-level cooperation;

Key Biodiversity Areas and Impact Assessment in BRI-covered Areas joint monitoring environmental quality and sharing experiences. Looking forward, there are many areas for our attention, considering their rich biodiversity and fragile ecological environment in BRI region. Related negative impacts of these projects on local biodiversity must be measured, assessed and reduced to ensure effectively implementation of such infrastructure projects. It is important to evaluate the project impact on biodiversity during the project planning phase, and it is recommended to use biodiversity assessment tools when assessing project feasibility. Furthermore, the topic of how to improve transboundary cooperation on biodiversity conservation of global importance is also worth exploring. Based on this, we put forward the following four recommendations: gearing up the BRI infrastructure guidelines with the UN Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, advocating for the use of biodiversity assessment tools before investing infrastructure projects, incorporating principles related to biodiversity conservation into the BRI green finance framework, strengthening science-based support and promoting the consistency of standards and norms related to biodiversity conservation.

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