Environmental Impacts of China Outward Foreign Direct Investment: Case Studies in Latin America, Mongolia, Myanmar, and Zambia
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China’s rapid increase of outward foreign direct investment (OFDI) over the past decade has garnered worldwide attention for a variety of reasons. Of particular concern is the concentration of Chinese OFDI in extractive industries, especially in developing countries. Generally, developing countries have fewer and weaker regulations than developed nations, exposing them to more severe environmental degradation. As the environmental consequences of such growth and investment become more visible, governments, companies, and communities pursue better environmental management and protection policies. Increasing environmental awareness and protection measures are evident in China’s 11th and 12th five-year plans, which suggests that domestically China is pursuing a more efficient and sustainable growth than in previous decades. China plans to implement policies to increase accountability and capacity to improve environmental protection. While challenges still exist, namely China’s growing demands for energy, such policies will provide a framework to advance environmental protection. China’s growing demand for and consumption of energy drives Chinese OFDI. The concentration of China’s investment in extractive industries leads to substantial environmental degradation. The majority of investment takes place through large state-owned enterprises. Despite improving its domestic environmental policies, China lacks any environmental regulation of OFDI. Though it promotes corporate social responsibility (CSR) and recently released legal guidelines for OFDI, such practices rely on the initiative of the investing company. The domestic policy environment interacts with the regulations of the recipient countries, resulting in differing environmental impacts. 3 An examination of several countries from varying regions illustrates how investments interact with recipient countries’ regulations. The increase of Chinese investment has affected the environment of South America, Mongolia, Myanmar and Zambia. Chinese investment in South America has allowed China to secure natural resources by increasing petroleum and mining production. Investment has impacted both small and established producers throughout the continent. South America, in particular Peru, shows how political development and improved financial markets can improve the regulatory environment, allowing FDI to benefit recipient countries. Most Chinese FDI entering Mongolia is in the mining sector to meet China’s growing demand for minerals. Investors in this sector include large Chinese state-owned mining enterprises that dominate Mongolia’s largest deposits, as well as small and medium Chinese mining firms in the artisanal mining industry. Unlike their larger counterparts, these small and medium mining firms do not employ environmentally friendly technology to extract minerals. Hence, Chinese artisanal mining has harmed Mongolia’s environment by generating excess surface water, waste rock piles, tailings, and mercury pollution, which causes air and water pollution. Inadequate law enforcement and local government corruption, coupled with the increasing influence of China, have made it difficult for Mongolia’s central government to address these environmental issues. In Myanmar, FDI in the nation’s hydropower, oil and gas and mining sectors has resulted in water pollution, destruction of fisheries, loss of biodiversity and deforestation. Chinese investors and firms from other countries, whose investments predate those of China, caused these environmental issues. They can also be attributed to Naypyitaw’s ineffective environmental governance, resulting from underdeveloped institutions and flouting the of its own environmental 4 laws. To improve environmental governance, Myanmar’s government must develop its institutions, devote more resources to environmental protection and promote environmental education. In Zambia, Chinese investments are concentrated heavily in the country’s copper mining industry. In Zambia, the country’s reliance on the mining sector results in air and water pollution of the surrounding areas. Though Chinese companies are by no means the largest investors or polluters in Zambia’s mining sector, the rapid increase of investments has made China particularly influential. The legislative and regulatory framework exists for environmental protection in Zambia, but the country lacks capacity for enforcement and accountability mechanisms. As such, several international mining companies have no incentive to comply with environmental regulations, worsening environmental degradation. To generate recommendations for improved environmental performance through sustainable outward foreign direct investment, we analyzed several viewpoints. Using the country report, we identified existing regulations and discovered areas where regulations or environmental awareness is lacking. One major observation from the country report is that China does not impose environmental regulations on outward foreign direct investment; instead, the government expects firms to comply with the regulations of the host countries. This raises an interesting question about whether home countries have an incentive to regulate environmentally sensitive areas. We surveyed theory and the existing literature on the pollution haven hypothesis to see if host countries avoid environmental regulations to encourage investment. Although the theory remains popular, robust evidence of the hypothesis does not exist. After completing the theoretical approach, we chose to apply country case studies to see if any developed countries have taken the lead in imposing environmental regulations. After 5 studying the U.S., Canada, and Europe, we found that environmental regulations for in-country development are common. However, like China, these countries do not actively regulate OFDI. In the absence of a global regulatory environment, a collaborative effort is needed. Through the research, we discovered a multi-tiered relationship, in which the home government, the host government, NGOs, and investors can all coordinate to improve environmental outcomes. After noting that the two-way tie between governments and investors is not always sufficient for regulations, we looked into alternative third parties that can affect environmental awareness. Through a literature review, we identified NGOs as powerful actors that can affect information availability, policy, operations, assessment and monitoring, and environmental advocacy. The combination of country analysis, theoretical framework building, case studies, and player identification allows us to formulate recommendations from the macro to the micro level. Specifically, we identified several broad categories where improvements can occur: with local communities and NGOs, with regulatory bodies, and with investors. Some recommendations apply to China’s environmental regulations; some apply to our four country regions; and others apply to investors and NGOs. TNC can help local communities and NGOs develop institutions, increase awareness, and build capacity to enhance management of environmental resources. By partnering with regulatory bodies, TNC can work to improve monitoring of environmental regulations through additional training and providing access to accurate information. Where investors are concerned, TNC and government actors can help improve banking practices and provide incentives to encourage environmental protection.
Al-Aameri, Nour; Fu, Lingxiao; Garcia, Nicole; Mak, Ryan; McGill, Caitlin; Reynolds, Amanda; Vinze, Lucas (2012). Environmental Impacts of China Outward Foreign Direct Investment: Case Studies in Latin America, Mongolia, Myanmar, and Zambia. Available electronically from