This week in Beijing sees the first-ever Belt and Road Summit, where UN Environment and China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection are announcing an International Coalition of organizations to ensure the Belt and Road initiative brings long-term, planet-friendly growth. Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment, explains why this is so important.
There was a time not long ago when most big social and economic challenges were domestic. With good policy and implementation, many countries could tackle these problems alone. China’s recent success bringing millions of people out of poverty is the perfect example.
But today, our challenges are not only domestic, and they are not only social and economic.
Climate change, pollution, and losing iconic species like the tiger and elephant are environmental issues that spill over borders.
And today, issues like poverty, inequality, peace and security are not only the domain of single countries.
These are global challenges. So they must be tackled collectively by working together.
A number of countries are leading the way in fostering international cooperation. China, with its One Belt, One Road initiative, is one of them.
Evidence of this can be seen in Ethiopia, where China is helping to build a metro system in Addis Ababa. In addition to clean and affordable transportation, it will provide many Ethiopians with a source of livelihood. In Kenya, the Standard Gauge Railway Project will link the port of Mombasa first with Nairobi, and ultimately with neighboring Uganda, Rwanda, and South Sudan. And in recent years, Chinese companies have led renewable energy projects in places like Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines.
Such massive investment in development is on a scale never before seen. There is great progress to be made on security, economic and social challenges. The UN Security Council has noted that the Belt and Road initiative can help rebuild war-torn Afghanistan, for example.
But we cannot forget the other global challenge that we must face together: protecting the environment.
UN Environment also recognizes the potential of the Belt and Road initiative to improve people’s lives.
Yet we also know how important it is to do this sustainably. If we do not make Belt and Road efforts sustainable and climate friendly, we put the world at risk from worsening pollution and severe climate change. If done right, millions can see the benefits of green growth.
Now is the time to do it right and make Belt and Road as green as possible.
This is why last December UN Environment signed an agreement with the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection to promote the sustainable development of the Belt and Road.
There are many ways we will support. Our environmental expertise runs from sustainable finance and clean technologies to ecosystems and sustainable consumption and production. UN Environment can support technology transfer and creating green economy policies. Through our Finance Initiative, we can work with private investors to promote sustainable investment practices along the Belt and Road.
But we cannot do it alone. Many other stakeholder groups, investors, and businesses have valuable expertise to bring to the table. And many Belt and Road countries have asked specifically for such support to make sure that the Belt and Road initiative helps them meet their sustainable development needs.
And so, at the Belt and Road Summit in Beijing this week, UN Environment and China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection will announce the International Coalition for Green Development on Belt and Road.
Together, UN Environment and China will bring together dozens of partner organizations in this coalition. We want to draw knowledge the largest body of environmental expertise possible to ensure that Belt and Road brings long-term, planet-friendly growth.
The Summit this week will bring together a significant portion of that expertise. I see it as the beginning of a close collaboration and hope to grow our coalition. We all want the Belt and Road initiative to fulfill its promise as a positive force for development. We must work together to ensure that development is sustainable.
Disclaimer: The original Op-ed was published on China Daily and can be found here