A solid foundation of information, planning and policies will enable decision makers to promote sustainable infrastructure development


The pace of global infrastructure investment is accelerating dramatically. In Asia it has not yet reached the rate needed to meet its development ambitions, but tremendous expansion is on the horizon and major infrastructure investments will soon reach snow leopard range states. India, for example, recently established the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund expected to reach $6 billion. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is scaling up its operations to more than $20 billion by 2020, with 70% slated for infrastructure investment. The objective of the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is to finance road, rail, port, and other infrastructure construction projects with a projected $100 billion in capital to invest. Extending across Asia and beyond, China has proposed the Belt and Road Initiative, estimated to reach $5 trillion in infrastructure spending and span 60-plus countries in the coming decades.

Though the high-altitude perch of the snow leopard has shielded it somewhat from the economic development threatening other wildlife, trade connectivity demands, population expansion, technological advances, and shifting land use caused by climate change will soon drive infrastructure into its domain – directly impacting this fragile, sheltered world. Infrastructure projects are planned or underway for local mountain community access, mineral exploration and extraction, major road and rail transportation networks, new gas and oil pipelines, hydro-electric power facilities, and water-storage facilities for alleviating increasing shortages in the lowlands of South and East Asia. Resulting habitat degradation and fragmentation pose serious threats to local farming and herding livelihoods in mountainous areas as well as the prey base and genetic connectivity of snow leopard populations – and the new roads, railways and pipelines will ease access by poachers to these relatively remote landscapes.

Asia currently invests about $881 billion per year on infrastructure, but to maintain its growth momentum, eradicate poverty and respond to climate change, Asia will need to double investments to over $1.7 trillion per year over the next 15 years, according to the ADB. The private sector is expected to play a large role in filling this investment gap, but it would have to increase investments from about $63 billion today to $250 billion per year through 2020 to meet expectations – an unprecedented escalation.

Can Asia’s aspiration to double infrastructure investment be met without damaging its biological heritage and iconic species like the snow leopard or the ecosystem services at the foundation of its economies? At the same time, can Asia ensure that the quality and viability of this infrastructure is secure over the long term – not undermined by the costly natural hazards increasingly caused by climate change?

Through a range of global commitments, snow leopard range nations have agreed on the need for resilient, ‘low carbon’ and ecologically sensitive infrastructure that will not erode the welfare of current and future generations, or the productivity and stability of the planet’s natural systems. They have voiced their agreement through the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and in particular, the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystems Program (GSLEP).

Taken together, these agreements are beginning to drive markets and investors to develop practical approaches for sustainable infrastructure. Implementation, however, remains a challenge and fresh attention is needed to enhance data-informed upstream planning while providing innovations in project preparation and design, supported by policies and financing mechanisms that drive sustainability.


Factors constraining sustainable infrastructure development across snow leopard range areas include:

  • Inadequate data and understanding of the resilience capacity and value of natural capital in landscapes – the information needed for evidence-based decision making.
  • Insufficient information on snow leopard populations and behavior to enable sustainable infrastructure master planning and adequate project-level impact assessments.
  • Wildlife movement dynamics information usually not considered during infrastructure planning, resulting in failure to fully capitalize on opportunities for smart infrastructure design.
  • Lack of ‘upstream’ integrated planning drives project-level decision making isolated from the broader context and other priorities – leading to increased environmental and social costs.
  • Investment decisions focused on short-term returns rather than ‘whole-life’ returns and costs resulting in ‘lock-in’ effect – potentially irreversible, detrimental impacts over the long term.
  • Policy instruments and incentives are not consistent, predictable, evidence based, enforced or transparent enough to build investor confidence and attract sustainable infrastructure financing.
  • Government and corporate safeguard policies, such as environmental impact assessments, are often outdated and inadequate, coupled with low capacity or incentives to implement and enforce them.
  • A communication gulf between the engineering and environmental management fields leading to inadequate consideration of ecological factors early in the design phase.
  • Absence of stakeholder participation in all phases, especially ‘pre-project’ planning and project design, fosters higher risks of social conflict and environmental degradation, increasing costs.
  • Lack of global standards and national guidelines for sustainable infrastructure. (Exception: the sustainable hydropower assessment protocol.)
  • Best practices are not widely practiced or understood, such as smart green infrastructure, which minimizes negative impacts on biodiversity and costly human/wildlife conflicts.

The widely accepted general principles of sustainability in development projects are embodied in the ‘mitigation hierarchy’, below. This is ‘what’ needs to be done to ensure sustainability at the project level, but ‘how’ that is achieved starts well before any single project is even proposed. Responding to the ‘avoid’ assessment stage, for example – requires environmental and social information on where and where not to go, what social and ecosystem service priorities have been established by communities and government, and what the trade-offs might be.

The earlier steps can be undertaken to address sustainability the more influence they will have over results over time. Waiting until an EIA is performed to consider environment issues is most often too late. Mitigation costs at this point may be prohibitive and thus minimized, leading to negative ecological consequences that could have been avoided putting in place policies that require comprehensive sector master-planning or integrated, participatory spatial planning.


A. Foundation

A solid foundation of information, planning and policies will enable decision makers to apply the mitigation hierarchy with confidence in the tendering, planning and design of any project. This enabling environment will help protect snow leopards and their habitat and decrease levels of social and environmental risk, fostering investor confidence.

1) Information and Education:

a) Identify environmentally-sensitive and vulnerable areas, especially those essential for snow leopard habitat, ecosystem services, and climate change resilience – building on existing data and globally established priorities, such as ‘Key Biodiversity Areas’.

b) Collate data and information on the movement dynamics of snow leopards and other threatened wildlife, particularly species most likely cause road accidents and loss of human life.

c) Agree on and officially map, through cross-ministerial coordination, Priority Areas for snow leopard habitat, resilience and ecosystem services, including those outside GSLEP landscapes.

d) Undertake participatory integrated Strategic Environmental Assessments of Priority Areas utilizing all available data on wildlife movements to delineate areas to ‘avoid’ or ‘go with care’.

e) Educate engineers, designers, planners, communities and politicians on the principles and practices of ecologically sound, resilient and inclusive infrastructure.

2) Planning:

a) To best ensure resilience and sustainability, undertake integrated planning at the system, not project level at landscape, watershed, national and transboundary scales.

b) Optimize future productivity of the nation’s natural assets by respecting agreed ‘avoid’ or ‘gowith-care’ zones in development planning and sector masterplans.

c) Promote evidence-based, integrated decision making by requiring use of spatial data on natural capital and biodiversity, particularly in and around agreed Priority Areas.

3) Policies and governance:

a) Enact regulations requiring Priority Area restrictions to be reflected in the tendering, planning, design, environmental impact assessments (EIA) and construction of all infrastructure projects.

b) Require transparency and accountability in project development, approval and project cycles through multi-stakeholder (e.g. finance sector and communities) consultation processes.

c) Require free prior informed consent of local and indigenous communities in infrastructure plans. d) Develop evidence-based policies supported by decision support tools and mitigation guidelines.

e) Follow and enforce international standards for sustainable infrastructure and publish clear local guidelines in user-friendly language.

f) Update, enforce and build capacity for delivering strong, clear and transparent Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) laws.

B. Finance

Closing the global infrastructure gap sustainably will require a combination of public and private sector funding. Following the global economic downturn, however, private investors have become more riskaverse and apprehensive about the next potential financial shock. At the same time, the currently lowinterest environment pushes investors to seeking greater returns than they can get from traditional fixed-income products such as government bonds. By designing infrastructure for long-term resilience, whole-life cost efficiency, and with embedded environmental, social and governance (ESG) best practice, projects can be substantially de-risked.

a) Consider the full scope of impactsfrom infrastructure projects across the whole project lifecycle, undertaking comprehensive risk analysis (climate, disaster, and other finance related risks) using the widest range of tools and methods (EIA, SEA etc.),

b) Develop mechanisms to quantify environmental risks and highlight the full environmental cost of proposed infrastructure projects to help bridge the science and finance worlds, working closely with the insurance sector on risk determination.

c) Plan a bankable pipeline of sustainability-certified projects with completed environmental and social de-risking assessments to attract green infrastructure bonds and public-private partnerships (PPP)

d) Develop a public-private partnership (PPP) checklist for the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

C. Form

Ecological best-practice in the planning, design, construction and operation of infrastructure focuses on avoiding, minimising or mitigating their ecological impacts. While it is never too late in the planning or construction cycle to add certain mitigation measures, such as crossing structures and fencing, it becomes logistically more difficult and costly to add them as the project advances. Early planning and best practice design based on sound data, clear conservation and social priorities, agreed standards, and a participatory approach ensure lower risk and lower cost in construction and operations.

a) Apply best practice principles in design to ensure that that it has (i) avoided important snow leopard and prey habitats or significant natural areas; (ii) where unavoidable, minimized the amount of habitat to be cleared or degraded; (iii) installed sufficient and adequately-sized wildlife crossing structures and fencing; (iv) installed measures to reduce water, dust, noise and light pollution into adjacent habitats; (v) implemented comprehensive maintenance programs; and (vi) undertaken monitoring and evaluation to test effectiveness.

b) Take into account ecosystem services that will enhance the viability of the infrastructure through natural/green infrastructure or bioengineering approaches.

c) Draw on local knowledge and conditions for design solutions and use local materials and local labor wherever possible.

d) Integrate infrastructure planning with disaster risk management and environmental planning and include awareness raising on disaster preparedness for communities in the process.

e) Invest in complete habitat restoration once infrastructure is in place or has been decommissioned, as with dams and mines.

Conservation for Development GSLEP Initiative

The conservation-for-development model outlines an approach for the remaining unprotected areas of biodiversity importance. It focuses on economies of value rather than scale, and relies on the generation and sustainable use of ecosystem services. This conservation-for-development  approach would be an attempt to bring humanity and nature closer, and to move away from nature–people dualism that has characterized economic development and biodiversity conservation so far. 

Financing for Conservation

This document outlines how resource mobilization from diverse financial mechanisms is essential to sustain conservation and sustainable development efforts.