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Best-practice biodiversity safeguards for Belt and Road Initiative’s financiers


With thousands of projects being built along eight transcontinental corridors, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is driving the global infrastructure boom. BRI is likely to have a sizeable biodiversity footprint as its corridors overlap several priority areas for conservation and 150,000 km2 of critical habitat. Biodiversity safeguards for the initiative therefore warrant scrutiny. Biodiversity safeguards are policies or standards (adopted by regulators, project proponents or financiers) that specify biodiversity impact mitigation measures. Here we examine a key source of safeguards—lending requirements of BRI’s financiers. We compare them with International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standard 6, which is often regarded as international best practice and which requires projects affecting ‘critical habitat’ to achieve a ‘net gain’ of biodiversity through impact mitigation. We find that of the 65 financiers identified (35 Chinese and 30 international), just 17 require biodiversity impact mitigation and 12 require a ‘net gain’. Among those with biodiversity safeguards, 16 are international, and despite the Chinese financiers accounting for over 90% of BRI’s financing (by quantum of investment), only 1 of the 35 we identified has biodiversity safeguards. Because most BRI finance is not subject to biodiversity safeguards, we conclude that potential impacts of BRI linear infrastructure projects may remain unmitigated, despite approximately 369,000 km2 of critical and natural habitat occurring within the 25 km buffer zone of such projects. We therefore argue for urgent adherence to best-practice safeguards for all institutions financing the BRI.

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Fig. 1: BRI’s key financiers by type.
Fig. 2: BRI’s financiers with published environmental policies, requirements on biodiversity and requirement of net gain in critical habitat.
Fig. 3: Overlap of BRI’s road and rail routes with critical and natural habitat.
Fig. 4: Proportions of critical and natural habitat close to BRI’s transport infrastructure.
Fig 5: Extent of critical and natural habitat close to BRI’s road and rail routes.

Data availability

All non-spatial data generated or analysed during this study are included within the paper (and its supplementary information files). The spatial datasets generated during and/or analysed during the study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request. Figure 3 was created using data from Human Footprint66 ( and BRI routes11 (available here: and country administrative boundaries from Natural Earth (, all of which are free and open access.


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Author information

Authors and Affiliations



Conceptualization was done by D.N., M.M. and A.M.L. Data were collected and analysed by D.N. and H.C.T. Spatial data were analysed by H.C.T. and A.M.L. The manuscript was drafted by D.N. and M.M., A.M.L. and K.H. helped refine it.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Divya Narain.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

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Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Table 6, Fig. 1, methods and references.

Supplementary Table 1

Key BRI Financiers identified from Secondary Sources.

Supplementary Table 2

Environmental Policies/Standards of BRI’s Financiers Identified from Different Sources.

Supplementary Table 3

Identifying Biodiversity Impact Mitigation Requirements in Environmental Policies of BRI’s Financiers.

Supplementary Table 4

Biodiversity Impact Mitigation Requirements in the identified Environmental Policies of BRI’s Financiers.

Supplementary Table 5

Comparison of Biodiversity Impact Requirements with International Best Practice.

Supplementary Table 7

IFC PS6 Criteria and Mitigation Measures for Critical, Natural and Modified Habitat.

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Narain, D., Maron, M., Teo, H.C. et al. Best-practice biodiversity safeguards for Belt and Road Initiative’s financiers. Nat Sustain 3, 650–657 (2020).

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