20 February 2019: The Arcus Foundation and Cambridge University Press published a report that examines the interaction between conservation of apes and their habitats with infrastructure development, including ways to minimize and mitigate the impact of infrastructure expansion on biodiversity.

The report titled, ‘State of the Apes: Infrastructure Development and Ape Conservation,’ considers the impact of infrastructure development in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s emphasis on a balance across economic, social and environmental dimensions. Although SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) calls for sustainable, resilient infrastructure, the report observes that the majority of infrastructure projects are expected to take place in biodiversity-rich developing countries, threatening wildlife and habitats. Within this context, the report uses great apes and gibbons as indicator species (or proxies) to analyze the effects of infrastructure development on wildlife and ecosystems, and biodiversity and the environment in general.

The report finds that the environmental and social standards set by financing institutions for development projects, including new infrastructure projects, are insufficient to protect biodiversity, critical habitats and local communities. The report argues that many infrastructure projects aim to promote economic prosperity and alleviate poverty but often fail to achieve these aims. Co-editor of the ‘State of the Ape’ series, Annette Lanjouw, explained that the majority of global infrastructure growth is planned in developing nations, often in “regions with exceptional biodiversity and vital ecosystem services.” She said the consequences of such growth “will be devastating for natural systems as well as for people dependent on these ecosystem for their livelihoods.”

The majority of global infrastructure growth is often planned in regions with exceptional biodiversity and vital ecosystem services.

By 2030, the report estimates that industrial activities will disturb an estimated 90 percent of ape ranges in Africa and 99 percent of their ranges in Asia. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, more than 30 “development corridors” are expected to transverse over 400 protected areas and degrade more than 1,800 nature reserves, resulting in loss of ecological integrity and connectivity and loss of wildlife. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is anticipated to cut across over 70 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. The report predicts that an additional 25 million kilometers of paved roads will cross the earth by 2050, enough to circle the planet more than 600 times. Almost 90 percent of new roads will be constructed in developing countries, including in areas that host exceptional biodiversity and deliver ecosystem services.

The report also highlights the implications of expanded energy demand and access. In Africa, for example, energy demand is anticipated to double or triple between 2015 and 2030. Global hydropower capacity is predicted to expand up to 77 percent between 2014 and 2040, resulting in tens of thousands of new dams that are likely to result in habitat fragmentation and loss across Africa and Asia and cause long-term consequences for river health. The report recommends that African nations leapfrog traditional grid-based energy infrastructure and move towards solar and wind energy as part of efforts to protect critical habitat, slow climate change and promote sustainable development.

The report calls for strategic land use planning to minimize the negative impact of infrastructure development and enable economic and social development. It underscores the importance of involving conservationists in such planning to avoid unnecessary deforestation or displacement of local populations. The report further recommends mainstreaming environmental and social impact assessments (ESIAs) as early as possible to promote sustainable outcomes and enable monitoring of impacts over time.

As part of the book’s launch, the Arcus Foundation hosted a webinar with experts from the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and International Rivers to discuss emerging tools and best practices for mitigating infrastructure-related harm to biodiversity, habitats and local communities. Panelists discussed steps that developers, investors and lenders, and policymakers can take to limit or mitigate the damage from new infrastructure development. Governments and infrastructure developers, for instance, can recognize and apply the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) to facilitate the participation of local communities in decision-making processes. Conservationists can use digital technologies and tools, including near-real-time forest monitoring by satellite or 3D landscape modeling, to facilitate strategic land-use planning. [Publication: State of the Apes: Infrastructure Development and Ape Conservation] [Arcus Foundation Website] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]