Science Magazine article: construction of new highway violates UN Biodiversity Treaty

Science Magazine published an article saying that the construction of the T-720 highway violates the international Biodiversity Treaty. The highway would run right through the protected Alerce Costero National Park. However, proponents say the road is a necessity to guarantee the safety of the area’s population.

Chile’s planned T-720 highway through the Alerce Costero National Park will violate a recently signed international treaty and negatively impact local biodiversity, according to an article published in early June in Science Magazine

The article’s authors, four Chileans scientists from universities and research institutes throughout the country, warn that by pressing forward with the project, the government would “completely ignore” its commitments under the Biodiversity Treaty. Under this treaty, which was signed at the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in 2022, Chile and almost 200 other countries committed to strive to halt biodiversity loss by 2030.

The T-720 road, a necessity?

The T-720 route is supposed to connect the municipalities of La Unión and Corral, in Chile’s Los Lagos Region. Local politicians have long advocated in favor of the construction. In June 2022, the Mayor of Corral said that the road would be essential, not only for the development of his isolated city, but also for the safety of its residents.

In addition to being an direct connection to Route 5, Chile’s main highway, the T-720 could save lives, the Mayor explained: “The route is necessary for evacuation in the event of tsunamis and other catastrophes that affect our country from time to time,” referring to the 1960 Valdivia earthquake. This earthquake, with a magnitude of 9.6 on the Richter scale, and the subsequent tsunamis, caused death and destruction in the entire region.

“Today, the fastest way to evacuate to Route 5 is by boat, from Corral to Niebla and then to Valdivia. We could use the Corral-Valdivia road, but unfortunately that route is constantly plagued by falling trees and landslides,” the Mayor explained.

And that’s not all: “the Corral-Valdivia road lies under the tsunami line, meaning that our town would be completely isolated in case of a tsunami or flooding.” “Having a third exit to Route 5 in case of emergency is an urgent need,” he added.

Also read: 

Valdivia Remembers The Heaviest Earthquake Ever Recorded

Potential environmental damage

Despite the arguments in favor of the road, the construction plans encountered resistance. The issue is that the road would run through the Alerce Costero National Park. This protected area is home to some of the last remnants of the Valdivian temperate forests in Chile and to several protected tree and plant species.

The Science Magazine authors are especially worried about the conifer Fitzroya, an endangered tree species that grows exclusively in Chile and Argentina.

The Fitzroya is one of the longest-living tree species on earth, they write, and forests where these trees grow sequester enormous amounts of carbon. These trees “provide critical ecosystem services and a wealth of historical and environmental information,” but are currently at a high risk of extinction.

The Alerce Costero National Park is now the only area where the species is protected. “Building a road through this vulnerable ecosystem would increase the risk of … invasive species, facilitate illegal logging, and greatly increase the likelihood of extensive forest fires in the park,” they state, adding that “90% of forest fires occur within 1 km of roads in Chile.” 

The authors urge Chile to “consider the likelihood that the road will undermine the country’s progress toward international environmental commitments.” “The preservation of roadless areas is critical to the goals of reducing extinction risks and protecting 30% of the planet.”

They call upon the Boric administration to “honor its commitments and prioritize the protection of the country’s most endangered species.”

More about CLIMATE:

How will the new constitution address the environment?

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