China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a colossal infrastructure plan that could transform the economies of nations around the world. But with its focus on coal-fired power plants, the effort could obliterate any chance of reducing emissions and tip the world into catastrophic climate change.
By Isabel Hilton • January 3, 2019
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013, has been described as the most ambitious infrastructure project in history. It is a plan to finance and build roads, railways, bridges, ports, and industrial parks abroad, beginning with China’s neighbors in Central, South, and Southeast Asia and eventually reaching Western Europe and across the Pacific to Latin America. The more than 70 countries that have formally signed up to participate account for two-thirds of the world’s population, 30 percent of global GDP, and an estimated 75 percent of known energy reserves.
The first phase — of transport and energy infrastructure and seaports — will enable a level of industrial development and economic integration that Beijing hopes will generate new markets for Chinese companies and create a Chinese-dominated network of countries, tied into China’s economic and industrial realm. If successful, it would create a sphere of technological, economic, diplomatic, and strategic power big enough to challenge that of the United States.
BRI has the potential to transform economies in China’s partner countries. Yet it could also tip the world into catastrophic climate change.
Speaking at a meeting in San Francisco in September, Nicholas Stern, the prominent British economist, laid out his concerns: “The more than 70 countries that are signed up to the Belt and Road Initiative,” he said, “have an average GDP of around one-third of that of China. If they adopt China’s development model, which resulted in a doubling of China’s GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions in the first decade of the century, it would make the emissions targets in the Paris Agreement impossible.”