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Study weighs up economic benefits of major transport projects

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Montreal, Dec 9 (IANS) Environmental scientists have carried out the first standardised global review of the potential risks and benefits to people and nature from planned road and rail projects.

The study reveals that holistic planning of major road and railway infrastructure can better protect nature, mitigate emissions and enhance economic benefits.

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Launched at the UN’s Biodiversity Conference (COP15), Thursday’s new report “Mapping Environmental Risks and Socio-Economic Benefits of Planned Transport Infrastructure: A Global Picture” was produced by a team of experts from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

Until now, there has not been a comparable global review of the ecological risks and economic benefits of planned transport infrastructure projects.

Using novel methods and metrics, the researchers forecast the impact that large-scale transport infrastructure projects currently underway or planned in 137 countries will have on wildlife population, carbon storage and nitrogen retention, in comparison to the anticipated boost to jobs and countries’ GDP.

The study helps to visualise potential environmental impacts against anticipated economic benefits for planned road and rail developments, and estimates projects will: Cross over nearly 60,000 km of the world’s protected areas or key biodiversity areas.

Impact the habitats of nearly 2,500 bird, amphibian and mammal species of conservation concern, with an especially high risk of accelerating the decline of species in the global tropics.

Release 883 million tonne of carbon from removed trees and vegetation. The loss of vegetation related to the works will also jeopardise the retention of 1.17 million tonne of nitrogen — without the plants, that additional nitrogen could be toxic to downstream water supplies.

Create 2.4 million new jobs around the world, with varying increases in GDP, ranging from a 0.1 per cent increase in North America, Europe and Australasia, and 1.3 per cent increase in lower-income countries outside those regions.

Combining and comparing their various measurements, the researchers were able to do a basic categorisation of which countries — based on the source data available — might stand to lose the least in terms of environmental impacts from the planned works, the most to gain economically, and vice-versa.

The researchers have also developed an online viewer tool — the Global Infrastructure Impact Viewer — which displays on a global map the values for project risks and benefits.

Study co-lead Andy Arnell from UNEP-WCMC, said: “Well-planned transport infrastructure is crucial for human development. But our expansion continues to pose a huge threat to nature. It is essential that national governments and industry can weigh the ecological consequences of transport development against social and economic benefits.”

“Our study is by no means exhaustive — it provides a snapshot of projects, species under threat and emissions and economic impacts, and does not override the need for detailed local and regional risk-benefit assessments of projects. However, we hope it will encourage further scrutiny for high-risk projects, and that our methods provide a springboard for further analysis of the risks from major road and rail developments.”

–IANS

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