Massive Development Corridors Could Create Environmental Crisis for Africa
A James Cook University research team says dozens of major “development corridors” slated to crisscross the African continent are likely to open a Pandora’s Box of environmental problems.
“The scale and pace of what’s happening is simply astonishing,” said JCU’s Distinguished Research Professor William Laurance, lead author of the study.
“We estimate these corridors will span over 53,000 kilometres in length and penetrate into many wild, sparsely populated areas that are critical for African wildlife and natural environments,” he said.
“In terms of development pressures, these corridors will be the biggest thing to hit Africa - ever,” said Professor Laurance. “Among other things, we estimate over 2,000 parks and protected areas could be threatened or degraded.”
In the new study, Professor Laurance and his colleagues assessed the distributions of endangered wildlife, rare ecosystems, carbon storage in vegetation, and other natural values. They also estimated the size of local human populations and the agricultural potential of each development corridor.
“We found the corridors are hugely variable in terms of their costs and benefits,” he said. “A half-dozen or so appear to be a good idea, in that they’d provide sizeable agricultural and economic benefits with modest environmental costs.”
“But many of the other corridors could be crises in the making.”
The team identified six corridors that should be cancelled outright and another 21 that were “marginal”, having either high environmental values or low agricultural potential. Corridors that would penetrate into biologically-rich tropical forests or equatorial savannahs were rated as the most worrisome.
“There’s no arguing with the fact that Africa direly needs social and economic development and better food security,” said Laurance. “But it’s vital to focus future development in areas where we’ll get the most bang for the buck - maximising agricultural production while not degrading the continent’s incredible wildlife and environmental values.”
“We’re hopeful African governments and the investors, mining interests, and financial institutions driving these projects will take a close look at our findings,” he said. “Where the corridors do proceed, they need very stringent environmental planning and controls, to limit the damage they can cause.”
“Our analysis was rigorous and our message is clear. Some of the corridors are a good idea, but others could cause great environmental harm and have surprisingly small benefits,” he said.