Does China’s “Green Silk Road” plan live up to its environmental promises? | China

In July 2019, China rolled out the red carpet for the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina. She had traveled to Beijing by the Chinese government with honor guard and banquet and received before President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang. Three days later, it returned with its capital, Dhaka Nine agreements It is estimated to be worth billions of dollars to build power plants and provide other development aid.

Hasina’s short visit Both countries benefited. New large infrastructure projects will help raise living standards in Bangladesh, but will also enable China to enhance its influence over its fast-growing neighbor of more than 160 million people.

Those loans and agreements made up a very small part of China Belt and Road Initiative The world’s largest infrastructure program since the US Marshall Plan helped rebuild Europe after World War II. Launched as Xi’s flagship project in 2013, it involves China flooding the world with investment to build a modern building worth $1 trillion plus. Silk Road network of Several thousand individual projects Along the major transcontinental corridors that run through Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.

Between 2000 and 2017, China invested about $843 billion in 165 countries and over 13,000 projectsMany of them are linked to the Belt and Road Initiative. They include high-speed railways, coal and hydropower plants, ports, roads, bridges, and tourism developments. Chinese money have poured in For dams, hospitals, mines, pipelines, IT cables, construction of new cities and parliament buildings. The bulk went to Transport and energy projects And the, According to a report by Morgan StanleyBy 2027, total Chinese investment may approach 1.3 trillion US dollars.

But while many world leaders have welcomed the Belt and Road Initiative as a way to raise cheap loans and receive grants not available from the World Bank or rich countries, they have become more cautious as the full environmental and social costs of China’s loans and the risks for their own countries emerge. mired in debt.

biodiversity threats

Many BRI projects have involved pushing roads and rail freight lines through some of the biologically richest places in the world. In one study, the World Wildlife Fund and HSBC warned That the Belt and Road Initiative could affect many critical biodiversity areas, endangering 265 threatened species such as Amur tigers, eastern white storks and giant pandas.

University of Queensland researcher Divya Narain, lead author of the book A study published in the journal Nature On the BRI’s biodiversity safeguards, he says the initiative is likely “the most dangerous environmental project in history,” poised to transform global transport and trade.

“It will have extraordinary impacts on the environment as its corridors and other projects intersect with some of the world’s most primitive and vulnerable ecosystems,” she says.

Naren calculated from World Bank BRI Projects Database That 33 mega transportation projects, including 9,500 miles (15,000 km) of rail and road, are proposed or planned, and 48 major hydroelectric dams are planned or under construction under the Belt and Road Initiative. Naren says many of the completed projects have already done serious damage.

a Giant dam on the Mekong River tributary in Cambodia and A major railway line from China to Laos Both led to deforestation and the forced eviction of thousands of families. Coal power plants in PakistanAnd the KenyaAnd the Indonesia And the Serbia It sparked protests over pollution, while road and railway projects in Malaysia and elsewhere have led to it Plowed through fragile ecosystems. a Railways in Kenya which crosses Nairobi National Park and is due to extend into Tsavo National Park, which is one of the most important wildlife reserves in Africa, was strongly opposed by environmentalists.

Much of the damage has been done because Chinese money for Belt and Road Initiative projects, unlike World Bank-linked loans or aid programs for most rich countries, lacks restrictions aimed at protecting biodiversity, Naryn says. Only Chinese enterprises and financial institutions operating abroad are required to abide by Host country principlewhich means that they often only have to comply with local environmental and social regulations.

Naren found that only one of 35 Chinese financiers identified as supporting a series of projects demanded any safeguards for nature protection. It concluded that unless that changes, the infrastructure projects of the Belt and Road Initiative will remain destroyed.

a PhD study From 13427 funded by China projects Published by AidData at William & Mary University in Williamsburg, Virginia, it found that more than one in three projects encountered “significant implementation problems” such as corruption or environmental protests. The study reported that an increasing number of projects have been canceled, downsized or put on hold, including the construction of a new airport in Sierra Leone and major port expansions in Tanzania and Myanmar.

The backlash towards the Belt and Road Initiative has come from critics in rich countries, who have pointed out that China is The world’s largest financier of large-volume coal-fired power plants. according to 2019 تقرير Report By the Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, China has been financing through its Belt and Road Initiative projects more than a quarter of all new coal-fired power plants being developed elsewhere — even when the World Bank and rich countries have been Pledge to End Almost All Coal Financing.

green silk road

Due to criticism that the Belt and Road Initiative threatens United Nations climate goals, China has announced a series of new initiatives to be renamed the “Green Silk Road”. In April 2019, Xi advertiser That the Belt and Road Initiative should embrace sustainability “to protect the common home we live in.” In 2020, it is He said China will aim to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060.

In 2021, at the United Nations General Assembly, Xi pledged to end support for new coal energy overseas projects. This was followed in March 2022 by a new directive from the China National Development and Reform Commission that appears to obligate Chinese banks and developers to raise construction and financing standards. The “Green” Belt and Road Initiative should be put in place by 2030, while by 2025 the environmental risks of Belt and Road projects are prevented You will improve greatlyCame in the new directive.

But analysts like Naren point out that the new guidelines mean little because the BRI is not centrally governed and no Chinese bank that funds BRI projects has any binding requirements to protect biodiversity or reduce emissions abroad. “These guidelines remain ambitious and do not require banks to set mandatory environmental standards,” she wrote in an email. “Unfortunately, that is still the case.”

In addition, the broad scope of the Belt and Road Initiative, and the ease with which loans for major projects have been approved by Chinese state banks, have led to accusations that it A geopolitical tool for foreign policy It aims to make China the most powerful country in the world under the pretext of building infrastructure.

Sources in China accept that BRI projects often bypass environmental regulations and damage local biodiversity, especially in the early days. But as competition with the United States grows over climate and global leadership, China is becoming more interested in green standards.

“At the height of the Belt and Road Initiative, China was all about signing up [memorandums of understanding] Scott Morris, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington and author of Report on a major project of the China-Laos railway. “Now I think China is, on a serious level, doing a rethink. They are facing a political backlash and financial risks associated with environmental damage. Lots of local communities [around the world] Not happy. They are rethinking the Belt and Road Initiative model.

“The issuance of new guidelines will not immediately translate into green practices,” says Christophe Nedobel Wang, founding director of the Center for Green Finance and Development and assistant professor at Fudan University in Shanghai.

“Guidance is not the same as law, and developers don’t necessarily understand. [Nevertheless] China is sincerely trying to raise its construction and financing standards to another level. “I am 95% sure that no more coal power plants will be built by China. There will be exceptions, but globally there is no subsidy now for coal. All fossil fuels [projects] is phased out. Water dams will be phased out. Renewable energy is moving from the periphery to the core of the Belt and Road Initiative. It’s accelerating.

But the biologist William Lawrence, director of the Center for Tropical Environmental Science and Sustainability at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, remains sceptical. “The Belt and Road Initiative will still have a huge impact on ecosystems: China said it would be low carbon, green and sustainable, but it is anything but that,” he says. “new ways It would still wipe out forests, and transportation routes would still destroy biodiversity on a large scale. China says it will follow environmental guidelines, but history has shown that such protections do not exist.”

Despite these doubts that most Chinese projects will hardly be affected by the “greening” of the Belt and Road Initiative, the country It has not financed any new foreign coal plants Under the Belt and Road Initiative since the beginning of 2020, many projects have been canceled or suspended, the Finland-based company says. Center for Energy and Clean Air Research (Crea).

according to briefing paper By Crea analyst Isabella Suarez, 15 coal plants that would have produced about 12.8 GW of electricity have been canceled so far, but 18 projects with a combined capacity of 19.2 GW may continue Because the backers have already obtained the permits and financing or they are related to industrial development. “China may continue to fund or build new coal projects under the Belt and Road Initiative because a loophole means that some projects that have already been planned may go ahead,” she says.

competition plan

Earlier this year, the United States and other G7 countries, fearing that the Belt and Road Initiative has It enabled China to take the global geopolitical leadership By financing hard infrastructure projects in poor countries, it launched a competition plan that aims to invest $600 billion in the next five years alone.

The details of the so-called Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) is still obscure. But rather than lending countries money to build roads, railways, ports and dams, early indications are that they will try to counter China’s influence in developing countries by financing “soft” projects such as industrial-scale solar power plants, a vaccine manufacturing center in Africa, and digital infrastructure that connects Asia and Africa. So far, the United States and the European Union have pledged to raise $200 billion and $317 billionStraight.

For now, PGII promises to be less likely to harm the environment than the Belt and Road Initiative. But with geopolitical competition between global power blocs intensifying and growing, the fear is that PGII – even with higher building standards – will seek to rival the Belt and Road Initiative in size, with an inevitably massive impact on the global environment.

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