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Gloomy forecast of the future environmental impacts
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We describe the most probable hypothetical “business-as-usual” scenario of international economic cooperation and integration in the Amur-Heilong basin. Such a scenario is based on the premise that an effective common environmental policy will not be developed or rigorously implemented. Should this assumption prove false, a brighter future could well be realized.

Several factors, taken together, could drive massive increases in environmental impacts through pollution, urbanization, and extraction of natural resources in the Amur-Heilong. These factors include strategic partnerships between China and Russia focused on natural resource extraction, pledges to triple the volume of transboundary trade, and China 's economic policy for the modernization of its “Old Industrial Bases” of the northeast. The Amur-Heilong River that defines their common border is destined to be the grist between these two mill-stones of economic progress.

None of the existing international agreements has been adequate to reverse the depletion of natural resources or deterioration of natural ecosystems. The shared knowledge and understanding that are rapidly developing in commerce have no parallel in natural resource management and nature conservation. The two nations are not prepared to face environmental pressures resulting from their economic development, and are much less prepared to take into account environmental impacts when planning future activities. The outcomes are unimaginable given that even today some wild rivers are undrinkable and some wild fish inedible. Short-term economic changes that would obviously cause adverse environmental impacts might include:

•  Increased trade in raw materials (timber, NTFPs, minerals);

•  Greater logging pressure on primary forests in RFE and Siberia without further reductions in logging throughout northeast China;

•  An influx of migrant workers who, at least in the RFE, will use outdated technologies;

•  The expansion of arable land at the expense of wetlands and grasslands, which in the RFE is likely to be given to migrants on short-term leases and without any incentive for land conservation;

•  Multifold increases in pressure on well-preserved ecosystems along the border because of liberalization of border control regimes, lack of environmental enforcement, and easy access to resources;

•  Development of numerous “free trade zones” dotting the border region that will increase traffic in commodities and render enforcement of CITES and other regulations virtually impossible;

•  Joint efforts in dam construction on the main stem of the Amur-Heilong River and its tributaries, and similar efforts in the great Siberian river basins to the north;

•  Development of a transport infrastructure aimed at capturing trade opportunities in northeast Asia, crisscrossing the region from the Tumen River area to a “Millennium” road through Mongolia;

•  Speedy construction of multiple pipelines and supplementary means of oil and gas transport across the region;

•  Increased harvest of valuable biological species like Kaluga sturgeon, and the devastation of many wild populations of plants and animals for the sake of commercial farming development;

•  The construction of large industrial facilities for processing natural resources in a "scientifically advanced manner" (pulp mills in Chita, Amurskaya and Khabarovsky Provinces), associated with significant environmental pollution and quick depletion of the resource base;

•  Water transfer schemes to north-central China and inner regions of northeast China that might eventually lead to a water crisis in this superficially water-abundant region.


Each of the above examples is supported by a plan, an agreement or the clearly articulated intent of the two countries. But this is only a preliminary list and it could be expanded to include many more equally possible examples.

The environmental impacts of these scenarios would be enormous. The immediate economic disadvantages for Russia are obvious: Russia would be unable to ensure more balanced development in the RFE and would likely become a debtor of China . Over the long term both countries would lose economically, environmentally and socially. However, if the two governments do not develop adequate safeguards or jointly plan more sensible and sustainable development strategies, this scenario will be realized. The reason for this conclusion is simple: this scenario is the most likely if existing “market forces” and prevailing economic policies are maintained. It does not require much additional effort or investment from government. Any sensible alternative would require great human and financial resources together with a lot of good will. And even good will would not necessarily lead to sustainability, especially if it targets only parts of shared ecosystems.


Map collection: Environmental impacts of economic development



GLOBIO human impact assesment

Human footprint and ecoregions of Amur

Human footprint and protected areas coverage

Threats to biodiversity in Southern Russian Far East

Industrial Development in Songhua River Basin (ADB 2005)


GIS: Human footprint


Web-site: Programs “Development of Russian Far East and Transbaikalia” “Development of East Siberia and the Far East” and their environmental implications: link to projects and atlas


Current measures are inadequate to deal with upcoming environmental challenges. Elm shelterbelt in Erka nature reserve. (Photo by E.Simonov)

Also look:

Economic development:

Sustainable future of Amur-Heilong

Russia – status of economy

Northeast China - status of economy

Mongolia – status of economy

Russia-China cooperation

Mongolian Foreign Trade and Cooperation

Mongolian trade diagrams-2003

Comparison table on Eastern Mongolia and Xinganmeng China

Comparison table on southern RFE and Heilongjiang Province, China

Policy for Revitalizing Old industrial Bases in NE China


Cumulative impacts -how much is affected?

Human Impacts and Threats to Biodiversity

Threats to major ecosystems in the Russian Far East Ecoregion-table


"Strategic considerations on environmental issues of Revitalizing Old industrial Bases in NE China"

"Strategy Recommendations"

Our questions on "Strategy Recommendations"


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