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A Photographic Celebration of Nature

17. September 2018 - 22:57

To celebrate another important milestone for ALERT -- we are now reaching up to 2 million readers each week -- we are going to do something a bit different.

Rather than talk about the dire need for nature conservation, we're going to share some images of the last place on Earth where Orangutans, Tigers, Elephants, and Rhinos still coexist -- along with an abundance of other species — the Leuser Ecosystem of Indonesia.

Getting there was half the fun (photo by William Laurance)

A rainforest dragonfly (photo (c) Suprayudi)

A mother Orangutan and her baby feeding on bark they've stripped off a tree (photo by William Laurance)

A rainforest kingfisher in hunting mode (photo (c) Suprayudi)

Suprayudi describes a favorite food of orangutans -- a rainforest fruit whose seeds they disperse (photo by William Laurance)

The glorious beauty of a rainforest gecko (photo (c) Suprayudi)

A rainforest forb in flower (photo by William Laurance)

One of the bolder Long-Tailed Macaques -- the rest of his troop had already fled as we approached (photo by William Laurance)

A tree-snake slithers into our campsite (photo (c) Siprayudi)

Thomas' Langur, a species of leaf monkey, feeding on foliage (photo by William Laurance)

Beauty near the rainforest floor (photo (c) Suprayudi)

An evening mist settles over the rainforest (photo by William Laurance)

We saw amazing things at night. A spotlight reveals the huge eyes of a Slow Loris, a rainforest primate (photo (c) Siprayudi).

A Sumatran Elephant feeding on grass verging the rainforest (photo by William Laurance)

These small tree-vipers are among the most common snakes in the Leuser Ecosystem (photo (c) Suprayudi)

A five foot-long Water Monitor, a smaller cousin of the Komodo Dragon (photo by William Laurance)

Oil palm planted illegally inside the Leuser Ecosystem (photo by William Laurance)

Each year farms, tracks, and roads encroach further into the Leuser Ecosystem -- conservationists are trying to staunch the forest loss (photo (c) Suprayudi)

It's important to remember what we're fighting for -- visit the Leuser Ecosystem and see the wonders of Sumatra's imperiled nature (photo (c) Suprayudi)

To learn more about the Leuser Ecosystem or help to save it, contact the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme or Forest, Nature and Environment of Aceh

All photos by Bill Laurance and Suprayudi


Kategorien: english

Right-Wingers Humiliate Australia & Hammer the Earth

2. September 2018 - 9:01

An unsigned editorial by a frustrated ALERT member:

Only in an upside-down country like Australia would the term “Liberal” actually mean far-right conservative.

Australia’s "Liberal Party" showed its true colors last week by toppling the country's conservative but mainstream Prime Minister — in an effort to install their own right-wing hero.  A hero that nobody liked.

Thankfully, the attempt failed, miserably.

And in advancing this ill-fated coup, Australia’s hard-core conservatives haven't just failed themselves.

They’ve failed and embarrassed all Australians.  And the Earth as well.

Heat-stressed sheep en route from Australia

Emulating America?

For right-wingers in Australia, there seems to be only One True God: The god of mining and fossil-fuels — especially coal, the dirtiest of all energy sources, which Australia burns and exports massively.

The god of mining generously feeds and rewards Australia’s right-wingers – with a heady diet of tens of millions of dollars each year – mostly from foreign-owned corporations.

In turn, the right-wingers fall all over themselves telling Australians that coal is good — and how efforts to slow global warming and promote renewable energy are ill-considered and economically bad.

But no matter what else might happen, the far-right conservatives have been looking to help themselves.

The latest political disaster — resulting in Australia’s seventh Prime Minister in just the past decade — shows just how bad things Down Under have become. 

And Australia can thank its far-right extremists.

For this resounding humiliation. 

For the growing comparisons of Australia to unstable, tin-pot dictatorships.

For the election of Australia to the annals of environmental shame.

It almost sounds like Trump’s America.

Donald Trump and Australia's loudest disciple of Big Coal, Tony Abbott

Naughty, Naughty

Australians have never hesitated to wag their fingers at the environmental sinners of the world.  Don’t destroy Indonesia’s rainforests.  Stop the illegal logging of New Guinea. 

Stop global warming before it kills off our Great Barrier Reef.

But those arguments are ringing hollow now. 

Just a decade ago, things seemed different.  In 2007, Australia named global-warming Icon Tim Flannery as Australian of the Year

It seemed to herald a view that Australians saw the environment — and their role in protecting it — as a major priority.

But since then, good will has flown out the window, along with an unnervingly long list of national leaders. 

The conservatives killed off Australia’s carbon-pricing scheme – making Australia the first developed nation ever to do so.

In Queensland, rapid broad-scale land clearing has roared back.

The iconic Great Barrier Reef is being battered by extreme heat-waves and by pollution from rapid land-clearing and runoff.

Massive heat-caused bleaching of corals on the Great Barrier Reef

Heat-waves and droughts recently caused the largest dieoff of mangrove forests ever documented in Australia.

And Australia’s higher-altitude species — specialized for cool, cloudy conditions — are increasingly taking it in the neck as the thermometer rises.

The list of eco-calamities keeps growing.  And the politicians from Australia's hard right — and their all-powerful mining god — can be thanked for much of it.

Stop the Damage

With their clumsy, bully-boy tactics, the Australian far-right is not just hurting the country's environment and its booming outdoor-based tourism, lifestyles, and industries.

It's ravaging Australia’s credibility as an international leader — as a nation with enviable principles and conscience.

It surely isn’t worth it. 

In the land Down Under, it’s time to stop upside-down thinking and give the right-wingers in the Liberal Party a great big boot into political obscurity.

Kategorien: english

Tonight’s Weather Forecast: Unseasonably Hot Till 2022

20. August 2018 - 0:38

When it comes to climate, things are officially veering out of control.

In the towering Swiss Alps, skyrocketing temperatures — above 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celcius) — have revealed a World War II airplane that was buried for over 70 years in a glacier.

In England, rare Andean flamingos are laying eggs for the first time in 15 years, because the weather reminds them of their tropical home.

In Denmark, a drought is costing farmers nearly a billion dollars. 

And an intercontinental heatwave is killing people across the Northern Hemisphere as it provokes devastating wildfires in Greece and California.

Broken Thermometer

It seems like global heat records are being broken year after year.  And a new study in Nature Communications suggests we won’t see any relief soon.

Using a novel statistical approach, the authors of the new study predict that the next five years — beginning this year — will be even warmer than expected.

In any one year, global temperatures are a consequence of two interacting factors, both of which are accounted for in the new study.

One of these is the escalating buildup of greenhouse gases, caused by over 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that humans spew into the atmosphere each year.

The other is natural climate variation, which results from a range of different factors, including occasional volcanic eruptions and cyclic variations in global sea temperatures that operate over multi-year time-periods.

The best-known of the oceanic cycles is the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, but there are others, such as the Indian Ocean Dipole.

“Global warming is not a smooth monotonous process,” the researchers write in the new paper.

Importantly, the authors looked at temperatures only on a global scale.  They did not attempt to predict which regions will experience heat waves or extreme temperatures.

But there’s no question the double-dose of warming will hit wildlife and biodiversity hard.  Animals and plants don’t have air conditioning.  

Climate change has already impacted innumerable species, from pikas to sea turtles, from Mexico’s lizards to Australia’s white lemuroid possum

Whole ecosystems, including coral reefs, mangroves, cloud forests, and of course the Arctic and Antarctic are being pummeled.

Hot Opportunity?

While the prediction for the next 5 years is anything but good, it may provide a political opportunity to convince leaders and the public of the urgency of combating global warming.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, humans are more easily convinced of the reality of global warming when it happens to be hot outside.

And there’s plenty of things we can do to combat global warming.

We can move far more actively towards green energy, while divesting from fossil-fuel companies and other heavy polluters.

We can pull out all the stops to protect and regenerate forests, peatlands, mangroves and other carbon-rich environments.

And we can decisively address the fundamental causes of environmental pressures, especially human population growth.

Yes, over the next 5 years, it’s almost certainly going to get warmer.

But we are not helpless.  It doesn’t have to be hot forever.

Jeremy Hance, a leading environmental reporter, is an occasional contributor to ALERT.




Kategorien: english

ALERT Blasts Indonesian Firm Pushing Ape-Killer Project

10. August 2018 - 8:00

In a worldwide press release, researchers from ALERT and Indonesia today strongly criticized an Indonesian corporation — for using “deplorable” tactics to promote a project that would imperil the world’s rarest species of great ape.

The corporation, North Sumatera Hydro Energy (NSHE), is “pressuring and cajoling scientists, throwing money around to buy influence, making false statements, and now has hired a public relations firm specializing in corporate crisis management,” said ALERT director Bill Laurance.

“These tactics are simply deplorable.”

Ape in Danger

Only 800 individuals of the Tapanuli Orangutan — the rarest great ape on Earth — survive today, in a small tract of rainforest in northern Sumatra, Indonesia.

NSHE is planning a hydro-energy project that would cut across the ape’s habitat, reducing and fragmenting it, and thereby greatly increasing its vulnerability to illegal poaching, fires, deforestation, mining, and logging.

The hydro project — to be funded with more than $1.6 billion from Chinese lenders — is provoking wide and escalating criticism. 

Concerns about the project have been spurred by recent articles in The Conversation, The Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic Online, and Mongabay, among others.

The advocacy group Avaaz has rapidly collected over 1.2 million signatures from those opposed to the project.

And today, the largest environmental group in Indonesia, WALHI, lodged a lawsuit against the North Sumatra government for approving the hydro scheme.

Knee-Jerk Reaction

In evident panic, NSHE has hired a public relations firm that specializes in corporate crisis management. 

Using intense tactics, the PR firm is attempting to sway leading scientists — including those from ALERT — who hand-delivered a letter to Indonesian President Joko Widodo last month in opposition to the project.

“The PR firm is repeating falsehoods from the dam company and attempting to confuse the public,” said Onrizal Onrizal, a forestry scientist at the University of North Sumatra.

What the hydro corporation fears most, ALERT believes, is that key funders, especially the Bank of China, will withdraw their support for the project. 

Belt & Road Disaster

Notably, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and the Asian Development Bank have refused to support the hydro project — largely on environmental grounds. 

This is because the project would cut through some of the biologically richest rainforests on Earth, imperiling the Tapanuli Orangutan and many other threatened species, including the critically endangered Sumatran Tiger.

But Chinese financiers and Sinohydro, China’s national hydroelectric authority, have strongly backed the project to date. 

China is the major driving force behind the Belt & Road Initiative, a global labyrinth of some 7,000 infrastructure and extractive-industry projects that will span much of the planet. 

These projects will slice into many of the world’s remaining wild ecosystems, potentially opening them up like a flayed fish. 

The hydro project in North Sumatra is part of the Belt & Road scheme.  Chinese President Xi Jinping claims the Belt & Road will be “sustainable”, “circular,” and “low-carbon”, but the hydro project is turning into an acid test of those gentle words. 

Right now, the Belt & Road is looking more like a global environmental crisis than anything else.  The recent collapse of several massive Belt & Road projects in Malaysia is a signal that the scheme has intense dangers and vulnerabilities.

Decision Time

Scientists have been adamant in their conclusions about the hydro project in North Sumatra: it is an environmental disaster in the making, and should never have been approved in the first place.

But despite growing national and international condemnation, NSHE continues to push for the project — pulling out all the stops in a desperate bid to save it. 

In any other nation, and with any other financiers, it is difficult to imagine a project like this advancing.

But in Indonesia, with abundant Chinese money behind the scenes, who can tell? 

It just demonstrates that when big money is involved, some corporations will go to virtually any lengths to get what they want — even with the world’s top environmental experts uniformly telling them it is a terrible idea.

NSHE should be careful — it could end up with a globally toxic reputation — losing business, influence, assets, and market share. 

Prospective financiers such as the Bank of China should run away from this hydro-nightmare and from NSHE — or they will be equally guilty of ringing a death knell for one of our closest living relatives.

All images courtesy of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme. 

Press release in Indonesian is here

Kategorien: english

Could Feminism Save the Earth?

5. August 2018 - 6:45

Feminism is all about human rights and equality, right?  It’s not about the environment or social conflict or economic and political stability.


Feminism has far more wide-ranging effects than most of us realize.  It influences our society and economy like rainfall affects flowers.  Like oxygen affects our survival.

And that’s crucial because we are living on a planet that is veering out of control in terms of its population growth, consumption of Earth’s finite resources, and environmental impacts.

According to the United Nations, Africa’s population could quadruple by 2100. South Asia and parts of the Middle East are also on rapid population-growth trajectories, as are many other developing nations.  We could have 10 or 11 billion people by the of this century and still have more coming, because the global population has not yet stabilized.

We’re Far from Feminism

Feminism means different things to different people and cultures, but it’s unified by a view that women deserve equal opportunities for education, employment, financial benefits, and human rights.

Globally, we’re a heck of long way from achieving gender equality, and the disparities vary a lot among cultures and societies.

In broad terms, Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia rank lowest in gender equality, Western Europe is the highest, and other regions are in between.

In Saudi Arabia, for instance, women have only recently been granted the right to drive a car.  In parts of Africa, women are still being circumcised.  Some ultra-extremist Muslim groups have kidnapped and even murdered young women trying to get an education.  The list goes on...

Feminism is the Key

Many folks don't realize just how crucial the empowerment of women and girls is for the world.  The most urgent goal is "Let Girls Learn" — allow girls and young women an opportunity to gain an education.

In demographic terms, this consistently raises the age at which women have their first child — because instead of bearing children they’re studying and commencing a career first.

For instance, in a developing nation, an uneducated girl might have her first child in her teens, whereas a young woman who had some educational and career opportunities might wait until her early 20s.

And that one change is magical — it makes all the difference in the world.

Population Stabilizes

Population growth slows dramatically because women who start their families later almost always have fewer children.  At the same time, the generation time (the interval between birth and reproduction) increases.

We can illustrate this using a simple online tool:

Let’s imagine two Earths, each of which have 1 billion people.  On Unstable Earth, girls begin their families at age 16 and have 6 children each.  After one century, how many people would that Earth have?

About 73 billion — an incredible increase.

But on Stable Earth, girls begin their families later, at age 23, and have just 3 children each.  After one century, how many people would it have?

Half a billion.  About 150 times less.

We can make this ultra-simple example more realistic by including the fact that, in smaller families, a larger fraction of the children will survive — as they’ll be better-off financially, with better food and health care.

If we assume child survival increases from 70 percent in large families to 90 percent in smaller families, then Unstable Earth will have 8.6 billion people after a century, whereas Stable Earth will have one-third of a billion people — still about 25 times less.  Amazing.

The point is to demonstrate the incredibly powerful effect of allowing girls and young women to get an education.  It’s a complete world-changer.  Doing so slams the brakes on runaway population growth.  And it works fast — we start seeing the benefits almost immediately.

Fertility rates can potentially drop very rapidly, bringing almost immediate benefits where population pressures are high.

But Wait — There’s More!

As if that weren’t enough, allowing a young woman to get an education and choose when she starts her family has a bunch of other positive effects:

·      It increases the health and education of her children

·      It reduces the likelihood that she will be divorced

·      It increases the likelihood that her children will get jobs later in life, in turn making them less likely to commit crimes or be socially disenfranchised

·      And societies with lower population growth (which therefore are not drowning in young people) have less crime and violent conflict — and are less vulnerable to having their young people radicalized by extremist groups

Why Aren’t We Doing More?

Given the astonishing and immediate benefits of educating young women, why aren’t we pushing this harder?

Why aren’t Western Europeans investing every spare penny in Africa and the Middle East — to reduce the social conflicts, wars, and intense immigration pressures Europe is having to endure each year?  Why wait until there are four times as many Africans as today?

And why aren’t North Americans doing the same thing for rapidly growing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean?

And Australians for burgeoning nations in the Asia-Pacific?

Bottom line: We should all be pushing hard to promote education and equality of young women because it’s the right thing to do.

And just as importantly — for our societies, economies, environment, and planetary stress — it’s the smart thing to do.

Kategorien: english

Mind-Blowing Videos on Urgent Eco-Dramas

23. Juli 2018 - 1:50

Want to increase your environmental I.Q.? 

From the Amazon to Elephants, ALERT produces super-quick videos on some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues. 

Each video last from just seconds to 3 minutes. 

They’re in English below (and also in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea Pidgin).

And some are formatted for mobile phones.

They’re great for becoming an instant expert, and terrific for students.

Please watch them — and Like and Share them too!


Stealing the rain from the rainforest


Why chop the Amazon in half?


How roads drive extinction


Boom and bust: Big projects can lose big money


When roads are lethal for nature


Giant projects are giant gambles


Imperiled beauty: Asia’s vanishing Eden


Why roads are like Pandora’s box


Orangutan battles bulldozer


Kategorien: english

ALERT Urges Indonesian President: Save the World's Rarest Ape

10. Juli 2018 - 4:29

In a letter hand-delivered today, 25 world-leading scientists from ALERT urged Indonesian President Joko Widodo to halt a hydro-power project in northern Sumatra that would imperil the rarest great ape in the world.

The 25 scientists hail from the Pacific region, North and South America, Europe, and Asia, including Indonesia and China.  Their letter can downloaded here (English version, Indonesian version) along with a press release (English version, Indonesian version). 


“The Tapanuli orangutan was described by scientists only last year, and they were shocked to realize there were only 800 of the apes remaining alive,” said Dr Onrizal Onrizal, a forestry researcher with the University of Sumatera Utara in North Sumatra, the only Province in Indonesia where the ape still survives.

“The most urgent attribute of this species is, when roads appear, it disappears,” said ALERT director Bill Laurance, a professor at James Cook University in Australia. 

Laurance and his team recently published a major study of the ape's conservation status and threats.  “It’s tiny habitat is being whittled away by illegal forest clearing, logging, and poaching, and all those things cluster around roads.”

“Indonesia has an international responsibility to protect this unique ape,” said Professor Jatna Supriatna, a primate specialist at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta.  “And saving its habitat would help protect many other rare species as well, such as the endangered Sumatran tiger.”


“The biggest threat to the ape is a $1.6 billion hydro-power project," said Laurance. 

"It is supported by the Bank of China and Sinohydro, China’s hydropower authority — and would be smack in the middle of the ape’s tiny habitat, slicing it in half with new roads, powerlines, and pipelines, and flooding critical habitat too."

The scientists say the dam project, know as Batang Toru, was refused support by other major funders such as Asian Development Bank and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, which judged the ape’s habitat far too sensitive environmentally to sustain further development.

“In that context, it’s shocking that the Bank of China, Sinohydro, and their Indonesian partners are pushing so hard for this project,” said Laurance.  “And they are using blatant misinformation to advance their case.”

“The power generated by the hydropower project would be very modest,” said Onrizal.  “And the Tapanuli orangutan is Critically Endangered, the most dire of all imperiled species.

“This is one of our closest living relatives — how could we risk sacrificing it for such a small benefit?” said Onrizal.


The ongoing battle over the Tapanuli Orangutan is shaping up as having even greater significance than saving the world's rarest great ape. 

It is also becoming an acid test for China's $8 trillion Belt & Road Initiative — some 7,000 planned infrastructure and extractive-industry projects that would stretch across half the planet, linking some 70 nations to China via road, rail, and port projects.

China has claimed that the Belt & Road would be environmentally sustainable, but leading scientists — including ALERT researchers — have largely dismissed this assertion as being exceedingly unlikely.

If China is so driven to push its agenda that it would gravely imperil the world's rarest species of great ape, then how can we believe any of its other assertions about 'green' development?


Kategorien: english

Should Rhinos Be Introduced To Australia?

6. Juli 2018 - 0:28

This is one of those ideas that might seem insane initially, but on reflection is not quite as crazy as it sounds.

There are five species of rhinoceros in the world — two in Africa and three in Asia.  All five are desperately imperiled.

For rhinos, the world is being rapidly shattered — their savanna and forest habitats destroyed and sliced apart by clearings, fences, roads, and other obstructions.

Even worse, they are being slaughtered by poachers for their valuable rhino horn — which is falsely thought to have male-aphrodisiac or curative properties, for maladies ranging from cancer to hangovers.

Vietnam and China are overwhelmingly the biggest consumers of rhino horn.  Vietnam especially — but Chinese workers, entrepreneurs, and even diplomats working in Africa and Asia have been heavily engaged in the illegal rhino-horn trade.


Rhinos are relicts of a great megafauna that until recently dominated the Earth.  Today, rhinos are some of the most endangered animals in the world.

For instance, the Sumatran Rhinoceros is so rare today that biologists refuse to disclose where it still lives—to avoid tipping off poachers (beyond saying it persists only in small pockets of northern Sumatra, Indonesia, and possibly in tiny numbers in Burma).

The Javan Rhinoceros was formerly the most abundant rhino species in Asia, ranging from Southeast Asia to India and China.  But today it could be the rarest mammal on Earth—with just 60 animals persisting in far western Java, Indonesia.

In Africa, White Rhinos and Black Rhinos are in free-fall.  The Black Rhino was once widely distributed across eastern and southern Africa, but its numbers are dramatically reduced and nearly half of its unique subspecies have vanished.

The White Rhino is nearly as imperiled.  On March 19, the last living male from its unique northern subspecies died.

That subspecies — now represented by just two females — is doomed unless someone pulls off a genetic miracle, such as test-tube fertilization or a Jurassic Park-type resurrection.


Nations that still sustain rhinos are having profound problems maintaining them.  Not that it’s easy.  Rhinos are big, near-sighted, and rather predictable in their habits — easy prey for poachers.

They live in developing nations with escalating human populations, including many impoverished people, where lethal weapons are frighteningly common and the rule of law precarious.

And they have horns worth up to $300,000 each.

In desperate efforts to staunch the slaughter, some nations have tried de-horning their rhinos, painting their horns with toxins and effeminate colors, and even assigning guards to watch over them day and night—like heavily-armed sheep herders. 

To date, few measures have had much success.

It’s only going to get worse.  Roads are proliferating dramatically in developing nations, increasing access to ecosystems for poachers.  And human populations and the pressures they bring are growing explosively in Africa and Asia.

Some believe captive breeding is the only solution, especially for the desperately rare Sumatran and Javan Rhinos — maintaining them in zoos or breeding facilities in the hope they might one day be reintroduced to the wild.


But at ALERT, we have another idea.  Why not introduce rhinos to Australia?

Before you laugh out loud, consider this.

Australia is a vast continent.  It has the kinds of tropical savannas, woodlands, and rainforests that the different species of rhinos need to survive.

Ironically, many of Australia’s invasive plant species have been introduced from Africa and Asia—not that rhinos, which are generalist grazers or browsers, are particularly picky in what they eat.

Australia has vast areas that are sparsely populated, with a strong rule of law and minimal wildlife poaching.  It has a massive eco-tourism industry that surely would be keen to see semi-wild rhinos and support their conservation financially.


At ALERT, we might be crazy but we’re not stupid.

We are not suggesting that rhinos be allowed to roam free in Australia.  Under those circumstances, rhinos could degrade native ecosystems and even pose a danger to people in the wrong situations.

But northern Australia has vast expanses of semi-wild land held by giant cattle properties or public grazing areas.

And we are not suggesting that harboring rhinos in Australia would mean reducing efforts to save them in the wild or conserve their native ecosystems.

Just the opposite.  The idea would be to establish semi-wild populations that would help buffer rhinos against global extinction, and generate funds and public education to help conserve wild rhinos and their native habitats.

Of course, introducing rhinos to Australia is a desperately crazy idea.

But then, desperate times call for desperate measures. 

Kategorien: english

Should We Fear the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank?

24. Juni 2018 - 10:38

Ready.  Fire.  Aim.

That seems to be the emerging strategy of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the China-led mega-bank that wants to supercharge development across half the planet.

ALERT scientists have just analyzed the AIIB’s draft "Transport Sector Strategy" — which describes how the Bank will jump-start new roads, railways, sea ports, airports, development corridors, and other transport infrastructure.

We’re doing this because the final date for commenting on the AIIB’s draft strategy is July 4 — just ten days away.

We’ll be sending the AIIB our comments.  And we need you to send your comments — and ask your friends and organizations too.  It’s as easy as sending an email, as we explain below.


Our scientific assessment of the draft AIIB Transport Strategy?

We’re flat-out scared by what we saw — and just as scared by what we didn’t see.

And if we’re scared, you should be scared too — because ALERT includes some of the world’s top environmental researchers, including leading experts on infrastructure and its consequences (for example, see this website).


Before telling you why we’re so worried, remember three things about the AIIB:

1.  It’s a multi-lateral lender, like the World Bank

In theory, that means it’s supposed to place as much weight on goals such as poverty alleviation, human rights, and the environment as it does on making money.

It’s also supposed to be working for the broader good — not as a de-facto instrument for advancing Chinese geopolitical and economic interests.

These are big issues.  Although more than 80 nations have joined the AIIB as partners, China clearly holds the lion’s share of power.  And China tends to do what benefits China.

2.  The AIIB is not just targeting Asia

For example, one of the AIIB’s biggest goals is supporting China’s Belt & Road Initiative — some 7,000 individual projects that will stretch across the South Pacific to Southeast Asia, Indochina, East Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and much of Africa.

3.  The AIIB wants to be a game-changer

It wants to supercharge infrastructure by drawing in many other public and private investors, bulldozing impediments, and promoting ‘transformative’ projects that will initiate cyclones of further development.


We could write a hundred pages here, but we’ll focus on three key issues:

Scary Point 1: The AIIB strategy is astoundingly incomplete.  Its only real allusions to ‘greening infrastructure’ involve reducing carbon emissions — by reducing traffic jams and vaguely attempting to slim down massive emissions from project construction.

This is ridiculous.  In the many remote and wild areas where AIIB-supported projects will be constructed, far and away the biggest impacts of infrastructure expansion are to open lands to a Pandora’s box of new environmental pressures — such as deforestation, habitat fragmentation, fires, wildlife poaching, illegal mining, and land-grabbing.

This Pandora’s-box issue is so central to infrastructure that failing even to mention it — or identify strategies for managing and reducing it — should set alarm bells ringing everywhere.

Scary Point 2: While unleashing an infrastructure cyclone, the AIIB scheme doesn’t even mention the desperate need for Strategic Land-Use Planning and Strategic Environmental Assessments.

That’s like trying to do major surgery while wearing a blindfold.

Our natural world is a complex mosaic of biodiversity hotspots, critical migration corridors for wildlife, remnant habitats for endangered species, and rare ecosystems.  

According to WWF, the Belt & Road will impact hundreds of threatened species including Tigers, Giant Pandas, and Saiga Antelope, and around 1,800 Important Bird Areas, Key Biodiversity Areas, Global Biodiversity Hotspots, and Global 200 Ecoregions.

Hence, the AIIB wants to slice and dice the Earth with thousands of transportation, energy, water, and other infrastructure projects – unguided by the biggest thing we need to avoid disastrous outcomes: strategic planning.

Scary Point 3: Perhaps the biggest defining feature of the AIIB is its desire to move fast — blasting ahead at warp speed.

But speed makes it hard to have good governance — to detect and ferret out corruption.

Speed makes it hard to see environmental and social dangers, many of which are not simple or obvious.

And speed increases risks to investors — elevating the chances that projects will fail — wasting public money, stranding assets, and incurring big foreign debts for host nations.

When it comes to infrastructure, speed can be deadly


Write to the AIIB and tell them you have great concerns about their draft Transport Sector Strategy (Email:  Please emphasize the following, in your own words:

1.     AIIB-supported projects should not begin without first completing strategic land-use, environmental, and social planning for each geographic region.

2.     The AIIB’s view of the environment is far too narrow — protecting biodiversity, critical habitats, key wildlife corridors, and rare ecosystems needs much more emphasis.

3.     The AIIB must limit the Pandora's Box of illegal or unplanned activities that typically follows big infrastructure projects — especially by avoiding projects in wild or rare ecosystems.

4.     The AIIB’s intent to move ‘efficiently and rapidly’ creates serious dangers that major environmental, social, and economic dangers will be missed prior to project approval.

5.     The AIIB’s “Environmental and Social Framework" is vague, toothless, and poorly regarded by scientific experts.

6.     The AIIB will face major reputational risks and strong global resistance if it proceeds without fundamentally revising its draft Transport Sector Strategy.

Kategorien: english

Asia’s Environmental ‘Eden’ in Crisis

14. Juni 2018 - 11:19

Bulldozers running amok in Eden?

That, essentially, is one of the key conclusions of a new landmark study of the Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra, Indonesia — the last place on Earth where orangutans, tigers, elephants, and rhinos still survive together.

The research, from an international team that includes several prominent ALERT scientists, raises just about every red flag imaginable.

The full study can be download here.  Among its key findings:

·      The Leuser Ecosystem, which spans 2.6 million hectares, is much more severely fragmented and vulnerable than previously understood. 

·      Road building is by far the biggest threat to Leuser — opening a Pandora’s Box of threats, including illegal deforestation, logging, palm oil plantations, wildlife poaching, and haze-creating fires.

·      Much road-building in the Leuser Ecosystem is ‘unofficial’ — a polite way of saying ‘illegal in most cases’.  Remarkably, there are twice as many illegal than legal roads, collectively totaling about 10,400 kilometers in length.

·      Although parts of the Leuser Ecosystem are still intact and undisturbed, these blocks of intact forest rely crucially on “forest links” — vulnerable areas that must be urgently protected to limit further forest fragmentation.

"Forest links" -- shown in red -- provide vital connections between major forest blocks of the Leuser Ecosystem.  Areas numbered 1-4 are hot-spots of destructive road building.

Political Battle

Officially, Indonesia’s federal government has designated the Leuser Ecosystem a “National Strategic Area” for environmental services.

But these protective efforts were actively undermined — especially by the former government of Aceh Province, which contains most of the Leuser Ecosystem.

The previous government in Aceh planned to crisscross the Leuser Ecosystem with major new highways and energy projects — schemes detailed in its notorious “Aceh Spatial Plan”.

One project — which ALERT has labeled the “Highway of Death” — would slice the Leuser Ecosystem completely in half.

The planned highway and energy schemes that would devastate the Leuser Ecosystem.

Equally alarming are a spate of new energy projects — mostly hydroelectric dams and geothermal projects — that would be located deep in the forest.

Besides flooding or destroying forests, these energy projects would require networks of new roads for construction and maintenance — roads that would cut into the heart of the Leuser Ecosystem, opening it up to a range of serious human pressures.

New Governor, New Hope

A bright new hope for the Leuser Ecosystem was the election last year of Irwandi Yusuf as Governor of Aceh Province.

Governor Irwandi has been far more sympathetic to the plight of Leuser Ecosystem than his predecessor.

Thanks to Governor Irwandi, most of the large highway and energy schemes ready to devastate the Leuser Ecosystem are on hold. 

But Irwandi needs our voices and support to keep these projects and their powerful foreign and domestic proponents at bay.

And government authorities and conservationists struggling alongside him to protect the Leuser Ecosystem are stretched desperately thin.  Illegal activities are rampant. 

Most of all, far too little attention is being paid to the devastating one-two punch of new roads and fragmentation.  Eden can’t survive if it is sliced and diced into small pieces.

The only way to save Leuser is to silence the roaring bulldozers.

Kategorien: english

Investors Beware: Infrastructure Projects Are Collapsing

3. Juni 2018 - 23:41

The astounding news that Malaysia has just canceled the massive high-speed railway from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore — one of the central elements in China’s Belt & Road Initiative — will send economic shock-waves around the globe.

It’s a giant blow to China.  And it will be a massive blow to the confidence of investors, many of which have been hoping to profit handsomely from the avalanche of infrastructure deals happening across the planet. 


The high-speed railway is far from an isolated example.  Giant infrastructure projects are collapsing all around the world.

In some instances, billions of dollars are being lost — both by investors and by the host nations.

In other cases, mega-projects that had formerly appeared to be a great idea have turned out to be economic, environmental, and social calamities.


In the Pacific-island nation of Papua New Guinea, a $19 billion liquid-natural-gas project, known as PNG-LNG, was widely heralded as an economic savior for the nation.

But now it is regarded as an economic loser.

Two recent reports have branded PNG-LNG a “development failure” — for failing to deliver on promised jobs, household incomes, national economic growth, and government revenues.

Source: Jubilee Australia Research Centre (2018)

As summarized on the leading website Mongabay, aggressive tax avoidance by ExxonMobil and other foreign investors are effectively defrauding the government of Papua New Guinea of hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

And as frustrations rise, social conflict and violence are spiking in territories around the 700-kilometer-long PNG-LNG project.

The verdict: a sprawling, multi-billion-dollar mess for investors.

And a calamity for one of the world’s most environmentally and culturally diverse nations — a nation now teetering on the edge of economic chaos.


Earlier this year, investors were equally shocked when Brazil abruptly backed away from its decades-long policy of building giant hydro-power dams in the Amazon Basin.

Such dams can have fearful environmental and social costs — flooding forests, displacing local peoples, and requiring networks of new roads that spur dramatic increases in deforestation, illegal mining, and wildlife poaching

The government of Brazilian President Michel Temer had long favored Amazon mega-dams — but abruptly dropped them.

Why?  Determined resistance from environmental and indigenous groups didn’t help.  Neither did a stuttering Brazilian economy.

But the fatal blow was deep corruption, cost overruns, and illegal kickbacks that had riddled the dam projects.

The bribery was so bad that one official was sentenced to more than forty years in prison.

Shockingly, former Brazilian President Lula has been sentenced to prison too — for nine and a half years.

The story is dizzying.  Project investors had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

They are now taking a gigantic financial hit, damaging virtually every sector of the Brazilian economy.


These are three examples.  One could list hundreds more.

For infrastructure financiers, the conclusion is inescapable.

Smart investors rely on accurately understanding the trade-offs between risks and rewards.

But the overwhelming majority of big infrastructure projects is happening in developing nations.

Sadly, these are often high-risk environments.  Corruption.  Poor transparency.  Hidden financial, social, and ecological perils.

Avoid reddish tones: Pervasive corruption in many developing nations (Alamgir et al. 2018. Current Biology).

And even in nations with far less corruption and strong public transparency, many infrastructure projects are struggling. 

For example, a Chinese billionaire who owns a 99-year lease on Australia’s strategic Darwin Harbor is struggling even to make interest payments on the huge debt he’s accrued. 

He’s now imploring China's Export-Import Bank — which is controlled by the cabinet of Chinese President Xi Jinping — to bail him out with a half-billion-dollar loan.

Investors shouldn’t be clamoring to spend their money on such projects.

They should be running away from them.

Kategorien: english