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The Belt and Road Initiative in North Eurasia: Changing Geographies and the UNECE Multilateral Environmental Agreements

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The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched by China in 2013 to increase economic and transport connectivity along the Eurasian continent and beyond, has posed unprecedented environmental and social risks, many of which are transboundary in nature. International legal tools contained in Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) can play an important role in mitigating such transboundary risks across space and time, as well as reduce the negative impacts of large infrastructure projects, such as are being developed under the auspices of the BRI. However, the adoption of MEA policy tools has been very uneven across the continent. Three conventions in particular, the 1991 Espoo Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment, the 1998 Aarhus Convention, and the 1992 Helsinki Water Convention (the UNECE MEAs) - have the least amount of ratifications by BRI countries. In this paper we discuss these three conventions and demonstrate their relevance in addressing the transboundary risks of large infrastructure projects which require complex coordination and long-term planning.

Extended ratification of these UNECE MEAs by nations along the BRI corridors should significantly assist in positively changing geographies by minimizing BRI environmental risks and threats on a transboundary and national dimension, but simultaneously (i) create a more unified approach towards sustainability across the BRI, (ii) raise involvement (and likely subsequent) support within communities for BRI projects, (iii) help to reduce related economic risks throughout Eurasia.

About the Authors

Fiona Cheremeteff
WWF Russia; Eversheds Sutherland/ Konexo, Consultant
Russian Federation

Building 3, Nikoloyamskaya Street 19, Moscow 109240; 1 Wood Street, London

Evgeny Shvarts
Head of Center for Responsible Use of Natural Resources, Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences
Russian Federation

Staromonetniy Lane 29, 119017 Moscow

Eugene Simonov
Daursky Biosphere Reserve / Coordinator, Rivers without Boundaries International Coalition
Russian Federation

Nizhny Tsasuchei, Zabaikalsky Kray

Guido Broekhoven
WWF International, Head of Policy Research and Development, WWF European Policy Office

Belgium, 123 rue du Commerce, 1000 Brussels

Elena F. Tracy
University of Illinois
United States

Research Associate, Virtual Research Open Lab, East European and Eurasian Center

Ekaterina Khmeleva
WWF Russia, Director of Green Economy and Governance Moscow
Russian Federation

Building 3, Nikoloyamskaya Street 19, Moscow 109240


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For citations:

Cheremeteff F., Shvarts E., Simonov E., Broekhoven G., Tracy E.F., Khmeleva E. The Belt and Road Initiative in North Eurasia: Changing Geographies and the UNECE Multilateral Environmental Agreements. GEOGRAPHY, ENVIRONMENT, SUSTAINABILITY. 2021;14(3):94-109.

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ISSN 2071-9388 (Print)
ISSN 2542-1565 (Online)