Published: 22:39, April 21, 2024 | Updated: 09:56, April 22, 2024
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Green Silk Road: Belt and Road Initiative projects become greener
By Oriol Caudevilla

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has turned 10 years old. During this decade, the BRI has grown from an early-stage project into a much bigger and complex reality. As per the BRI official website, more than 150 countries and 32 international organizations (most of which are in Africa and across Asia) have joined this massive project, with more than 200 agreements currently underway or completed. The BRI is a transcontinental long-term investment program that aims at infrastructure development and acceleration of the economic integration of countries along the route of the historic Silk Road.

The BRI has indeed boosted participating countries’ economies and global GDP. The initiative was unveiled in 2013 by President Xi Jinping and until 2016, was known in English as One Belt One Road. On March 28, 2015, the official outline for the BRI was issued by the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China, with the authorization of the State Council.

The BRI aims to “promote the connectivity of Asian, European and African continents and their adjacent seas, establish and strengthen partnerships among the countries along the Belt and Road, set up all-dimensional, multitiered and composite connectivity networks, and realize diversified, independent, balanced and sustainable development in these countries”.

One area that I would like to focus on is the Green Silk Road. The Green Silk Road looks at making Belt and Road projects greener and more sustainable. Chinese policymakers have increasingly focused on greening the BRI in recent years. The scope of the Green Silk Road includes reducing climate emissions, reducing pollution, and protecting biodiversity, while ensuring improved economic opportunities for the countries involved.

Why is the Green Silk Road relevant?

For starters, the Green Silk Road is consistent with China becoming greener as China is reducing its dependence on coal: Its goal is that of reaching its carbon emissions peak before 2030 and becoming carbon neutral before 2060, as listed in the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035.

Both of China’s objectives are crucial for achieving green development. By way of comparison, the United States and the European Union aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. If they meet their targets, it will have taken the US around 45 years and the EU around 60 years to move from their carbon emissions peak to achieve neutrality, but China plans to do it in just 30 years, which is a very ambitious, yet reachable, goal.

When it comes to Hong Kong, the United Nations’ resident coordinator in China, Siddharth Chatterjee, while speaking at the Hong Kong Financial Forum 2023, said that Hong Kong has a unique role to play as China’s “offshore” capital hub for green finance.

Hong Kong’s interest in strengthening its position as a green-tech and green-finance hub is not new. As I mentioned in Hong Kong rightfully becoming a green-finance hub (April 23, 2021, China Daily HK Edition), by embracing green finance even more, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region would be consistent with China’s carbon goals.

Furthermore, since the introduction of the BRI, some critics have voiced concerns about potential negative environmental effects of extensive infrastructure development. The Green Silk Road is a response to this growing criticism.

Indeed, overall, the BRI has enhanced connectivity and infrastructure development across continents: The initiative has seen the construction of a vast network of roads, railways, ports, and other infrastructure projects that have significantly improved transportation and trade links between China and other participating countries. These developments have facilitated the flow of capital and goods, thus increasing economic growth in various regions. Knowledge-sharing, cultural exchanges, mutual understanding, and diplomatic ties among nations have also been strengthened.

We believe developments across countries involved in the whole BRI are likely to become more sustainable with time

However, critics, especially in the West, have been skeptical of the BRI’s goals and impact on overseas development.

Third, many participating countries are lagging in terms of sustainable development. China’s emphasis on the Green Silk Road allows the country to position itself as a leader in this space, set green standards for BRI projects, and make sustainability a defining feature of BRI cooperation agreements.

To sum up, as the world’s largest market and equipment manufacturer in the field of clean energy, China has conducted green energy cooperation with more than 100 countries and regions. In BRI partner countries, Chinese investment in green and low-carbon energy has surpassed that in traditional energy, thus promoting greater balance between socioeconomic development and eco-environmental protection and bringing more opportunities for green development to participating countries and regions. China’s BRI projects will become greener and more sustainable in the longer term. We believe developments across countries involved in the whole BRI are likely to become more sustainable with time.

The first decade of the BRI can be considered as very satisfactory: Through this initiative, the infrastructure of more countries has been developed and the economic integration of countries along the route of the historic Silk Road has been accelerated, taking China’s lead. It is now time as well for the Silk Road to become greener, which is precisely what China is doing.

The author is a fintech adviser, researcher and a former business analyst for a Hong Kong publicly listed company.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.