Nicaragua Canal postponed again for environmental and/or financial concerns

The west coast of Nicaragua, near the proposed route of the Nicaragua Canal.  Photo: Dylan Walters.

The west coast of Nicaragua, near the proposed route of the Nicaragua Canal.  Photo: Dylan Walters.

While climate change negotiations dominated headlines this month, another global environmental concern came to a much less publicized turning point.  The proposed Nicaragua Canal project, which would move more earth than any infrastructure project in history, has been postponed until at least late 2016, according to the project team:

The company said the “design of the canal is being fine tuned”, in accordance with recommendations contained in an environmental impact assessment [...] “The construction of locks and the big excavations will start toward the end of 2016.”  HKND officials have said the route may be adjusted and other changes made to the original plan in order to offset such concerns and ensure the project is in compliance with international standards, so it can win support from the World Bank and other global institutions.  Such claims remain contentious [...]

Other concerns focus on the financing of the project, which remains obscure. HKND says it plans to build a global consortium with investors from many countries. Until now, however, most of the seed money has reportedly come from Wang’s personal fortune.

And that fortune has been devastated in recent months, as the Chinese stock market collapse has dramatically reduced Wang Jing's capacity to personally finance the project.  Bloomberg called him the worst performing billionaire in 2015:

Telecommunications entrepreneur Wang Jing, 42, was one of the world’s 200 richest people with $10.2 billion at the peak of the Chinese markets in June, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His net worth has since fallen to $1.1 billion.  His 84 percent drop so far in 2015 is the worst recorded by the index [...]
The billionaire said in a December 2014 televised press conference in Nicaragua that he was committing personal funds to the project, and he’s poured about $500 million of his own money into it so far [...]
“The turn of fortune in Mr. Wang’s financial resources will impact how and whether the canal can and will be built," said Daniel Wagner, CEO of Country Risk Solutions and a former country risk manager at General Electric Co. “I would expect, given this year’s financial gyrations in China, that the government is also asking itself whether the canal is a viable proposition."

Wang will most likely recover, but it will be difficult to convince investors to back the project if the environmental and social concerns remain a point of global concern.  This NPR segment suggests the canal will remain contentious for some time: