We hosted a 2.5 day workshop, Developing Spatial Solutions to Environmental Impacts of Infrastructure Development, at Duke Kunshan University, Kunshan, China from October 15-17, 2018. The primary goal of this workshop was to develop a shared strategy on how to use spatial data to proactively address the impact of infrastructure expansion on the environment. Workshop objectives included gathering and coordinating experts who are using spatial data on infrastructure, environment, and policies to understand impacts of road and rail infrastructure development; assessing how various spatial data and analyses could be used to inform and improve the environmental outcomes for BRI rail and road investments; identifying critical needs and data gaps for such analyses; developing Strategic Environmental Assessment tools for the scale of economic corridors; and discussing how to best communicate and incorporate these findings in the decision making process.
One outcome of the Spatial Solutions Workshop was a consensus on three major shortcomings hampering the development of a green BRI:
- First, existing information – for example, remote sensing data on deforestation, pollution, and flooding vulnerability – are available but they are scattered and not easy to interpret and utilize.
- Second, capacity building is needed to build technical know-how to analyze this information and translate evidence-based findings to decision makers.
- And third, in order to improve the outcomes, evidence-based analyses and guidance need to take place early in process rather than at a later stage when infrastructure projects are already well on their way to construction (which is when environmental and social concerns are often raised).
To address these shortcomings, the Spatial Solutions Workshop produced a proposal for an international collaborative, Gateway for Sustainable Infrastructure (GSI). The goal of GSI is to facilitate early-stage, evidence-based planning for large-scale infrastructure projects to maximize the benefits to the economy, local communities, and the environment. The proposed GSI would have four pillars:
- An Information Portal pillar that would assemble and make easily available relevant data on environmental, social, health, economic, legal, and infrastructure parameters.
- An Integrated Analyses pillar that would support analyses of these data in conjunction with existing and planned infrastructure in order to learn from prior impacts, assess future infrastructure, mitigate negative impacts, and inform infrastructure development policy.
- A Participatory Engagement pillar that would provide instruments for integrating stakeholders – ranging from governments and financial institutions to civil society – into sustainable infrastructure planning through capacity building.
- An Application and Guidance pillar that would draw from the three prior pillars to support and inform sustainable infrastructure solutions in the form of tools, methods, and guidance needed by different users.
We aim to work alongside other on-going BRI efforts within and outside of China (e.g. UNEP’s Green Belt and Road Coalition and Chinese Academy of Science’s Digital Belt and Road), and have already integrated key members of these coalitions into GSI.
- DKU and Duke University (host institutions)
- AidData of College of William and Mary
- The Biodiversity Consultancy
- Center for Strategic and international Studies
- Chinese Academy of Sciences
- Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment
- Chinese National Development and Reform Commission
- Chongqing University
- Conservation Biology Institute
- Legal Atlas®
- United Nations Environment
- University of Hong Kong
- University of Nottingham (Malaysia Campus)
- World Wildlife Fund.