The Belt and Road Initiative could become a vehicle for environmental



The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an ambitious strategy initiated by China and will be implemented in regions with the greatest development potential. BRI countries account for 30 percent of global GDP but their economic growth is only 2.7 percent higher than the global average. The strategy is intended to directly benefit 62 percent of the world's population.

The environmental implications of the initiative need careful attention as the BRI countries include many of the world’s top fishing nations and encompass important areas of biodiversity but also account for a significant percentage of global carbon emissions. Since it was proposed in 2013, BRI has been moving forward quickly; China has now signed energy, infrastructure development and industrial agreements with more than 30 countries in the region.

This booming investment in the region's infrastructure will go one of the two ways: Investment in clean and low-carbon energy and technologies will help peak carbon emission early, or dirty energy will increase regional emissions, causing higher global emissions and failing the goal of the Paris Agreement.

BRI provides China with a tremendous opportunity to find an alternative investment path by focusing on low-carbon growth, emissions trading, and other clean development goals. BRI could cement China’s role as a global climate leader that is committed to fulfilling its international climate promises, as described by Xi Jinping in the 19th National CPC Congress report.

China has developed a green BRI vision that includes establishing an environmental big data platform to support green trade and investment, and creating a BRI green development coalition to bring countries and parties - such as enterprises, decision makers and NGOs - together. In addition, there are further specific actions that can be taken to establish a green BRI.

In May 2017, China launched its Greening the Belt and Road Initiative Guidelines. To fulfill the requirements in the Guidelines, China could further publish policies and action plans, and organize cross-ministerial dialogues to accelerate this process, ensuring final policies and actions that will reflect harmonized objectives on energy, the environment and the climate. In doing so, a comprehensive policy package could be developed to translate China’s ambitious green BRI vision into implementable actions.

China could also build a policy dialogue platform so think tanks from different countries can come together and share policy tools, datasets and analytical models, create transparency for policy-making and policy implementation related to environment, energy and climate.

Besides, key investors - especially China’s investors and the banks intensively engaged in BRI infrastructure development - should develop and adopt stringent environmental standards for investment. There is an opportunity to establish dialogue with other global leaders focused on lowering carbon emissions. China can lead by promoting these standards to other sovereign investors and multilateral development banks in order to create a level-playing field in the BRI markets. That should include governmental requirements on the technologies that China could export through BRI.

Furthermore, The BRI initiative provides a good opportunity to rethink the commodity supply chains that flow into China, and the finance and exports that flow out. A green supply chain alliance is needed to ensure that higher environmental procurement criteria get adopted and the best business practices are used in order to ensure that environmental impacts are minimized.

How to consolidate an ecological big data platform to facilitate green trade and investment is another major issue. China has committed itself to constructing the BRI green development big-data platform and this should be expanded to support green initiatives, including developed scientific and cost-effective policy instruments; the investment, promotion and use of advanced technologies; and the assessment of environmental impacts. The capacity for collecting data will be created by employing advanced monitoring technologies, especially to collect emissions from the oil and gas industry and energy trades.

Last but not the least, linking regional carbon markets will be an effective way to cap emissions, since the market is an important mechanism for internalizing the full costs of carbon emissions. As part of capping its emissions, China is beginning to launch the world’s largest carbon market and should share its expertise with other BRI countries, helping their effort to internalize the social costs of carbon use.

The “Belt and Road Initiative” holds great prospects for global economic progress, and it can - and should - also become a vehicle for for meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals by helping environmental progress in the countries along the belt and road.