What’s Wrong with Environmental Impact Assessments? – Project Syndicate

Written by Maxwell Gomera

The world is expected to invest around $90 trillion in infrastructure in the next 15 years alone, resulting in more new infrastructure than is currently in existence globally. To ensure that these projects do not destroy the planet, environmental impact assessments must be conducted by well-regulated, impartial professionals.

CAMBRIDGE – Walhi, Indonesia’s largest environmental organization, recently took the government to court for issuing construction permits to a Chinese company based on what they allege was a “deeply flawed” environmental impact assessment. In fact, Wahli contends, the $1.5 billion Batang Toru dam project will have severe ecological consequences, including the likely extinction of the world’s rarest great ape, the Tapanuli orangutan.

Batang Toru is just one of many planned infrastructure projects worldwide that are officially deemed environmentally sound, despite posing serious environmental risks. For example, construction is nearly complete on a railway line through Kenya’s famous Nairobi National Park, despite public outrage over an “incomplete and incompetent” environmental impact assessment.

Similarly, in Guinea, the government has approved plans for another Chinese company to build a dam inside the Moyen-Bafing national park, a chimpanzee sanctuary. The environmental impact assessment that was carried out, experts say, significantly underestimates the number of chimpanzees that the project threatens.

This is a dangerous trend and it could unravel the biodiversity and ecosystem services – including the production of food and water, the cycling of nutrients, and the natural regulation of crop pests and pollinators – on which all life depends. Already, some 60% of those services are degraded. With the world expected to investaround $90 trillion in infrastructure (including roads, dams, and power plants) in the next 15 years alone – resulting in more new infrastructure than is currently in existence globally – action is urgently needed to ensure that investment decisions account for projects’ real environmental consequences.

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