Webcast: The Reality of Green Investments in Central Asia
Viktor Novikov, Geographer and Expert on Central Asia in Conversation With Ion Karagounis of WWF
China and its partners express their willingness to make Belt and Road developments mutually beneficial and greener. But how can these promises be fulfilled in Central Asia? Are the economic and political interests and the speed of the development under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) conducive to greening investments? WWF Switzerland’s Ion Karagounis discussed ongoing efforts and challenges in greening BRI and related projects in Central Asia with Viktor Novikov, Geographer and Expert on Central Asia of the Zoï Environment Network.
Our Key Takeaways
The countries of Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – have been facing various environmental problems. The most prominent examples are the shrinking of the Aral Sea and decreased flow rates of major rivers. Significant impacts by the BRI and related projects may not yet be visible, as the BRI has been in place for only five years. However, the speed with which Belt and Road developments are proceeding is limiting the opportunities for involved governments and external interests to assess and address environmental and other risks in a timely manner. Political importance and high pressure are attached to BRI projects.
National laws or conventions on environmental standards exist, but their enforcement is a challenge; not only due to a lack of national capacities and experience, but also due to limited data and information available and the need for speedy decisions. Furthermore, efforts are being made to improve standards, also by China (see e.g. the study on harmonizing investment and finance standards by the China Development Bank and UNDP). These good intentions may not translate into action on the ground though. Viktor Novikov highlights two reasons: 1) limited transparency at the company and local level, e.g. by an energy or road operator linked to Belt and Road, and 2) limited awareness of existing and new standards coming from China as Central Asian countries have historically been more Europe-oriented.
Ion Karagounis presented three simplified ‘hypotheses’: Many infrastructure projects are oversized; no-go areas are needed for threatened species, like e.g. the Saiga antelope; and no more infrastructure for fossil energy, including coal, gas and oil, shall be constructed. Viktor Novikov generally agreed to these, adding that most Central Asian countries have several categories in place for protected areas. The transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources is slow. Outside pressure from European and Chinese companies involved in the BRI could speed up the transition process.
- Greening the Belt and Road Projects in Central Asia, 2019, report by Zoï Environment Network:
- The Belt and Road Initiative: WWF Recommendations and Spatial Analysis, 2017, WWF Briefing Paper:
- Reports and inputs from the Geneva Forum for Sustainable Infrastructure, 2018, co-hosted by UN Environment, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the University of Geneva (UNIGE)
- Information on the Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership
- Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (a business-oriented biodiversity screening service, often used by development banks and investors)
- SuRe® –The Standard for Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure
- Global Infrastructure Basel Foundation (NGO working on sustainable and resilient infrastructure)
Viktor Novikov is a highly recognized geographer, environmental analyst and expert on Central Asia. His work covers areas like climate change, biodiversity, environment and security, waste management, mountain issues and most recently the environmental impacts of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Working for Zoï Environment Network in Geneva, he has contributed to many flagship publications with world-wide reach. Viktor is originally from Dushanbe, Tajikistan. He has lived in Geneva, Switzerland for more than 15 years.
Ion Karagounis has been working for the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) Switzerland for more than eight years. After having led the department for environmental programs, he took over responsibilities on new economic models and questions regarding the future in 2018. From 2000 until 2012, he was the CEO of the Swiss environmental non-profit organization, Stiftung Praktischer Umweltschutz Schweiz (Pusch). From 1994 until 1999, he was CEO of the Swiss Union for the prevention of water and air pollution, Vereinigung für Gewässerschutz und Lufthygiene (VGL). Ion has a degree in natural science from ETH Zurich and a degree in corporate management and journalism. 2003, Ion published the award winning travel report Mit dem Zug durch Zentralasien und China – auf der Seidenstrasse von Schaffhausen nach Shanghai.