The Belt and Road Initiative is a China-led effort to promote economic development and inter-regional connectivity in over 115 countries, and is arguably the largest single investment in infrastructure in generations. This undertaking will involve trillions of dollars of investments, largely in transportation, energy, and telecommunications infrastructure, industrial capacity, and technical capacity building.
With any such large-scale development comes significant environmental challenges. In addition to the immediate biophysical impacts, if Belt and Road investments lock countries into unsustainable infrastructure, technology, and resource extraction, this will create long-lasting negative environmental consequences.
These could, in turn, seriously undermine the ability of many countries to meet their targets under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. With all Belt and Road investments, care must be taken to ensure that decisions are based on sound knowledge and solid science. Social and environmental safeguards must be put in place so that projects include effective stakeholder engagement and that benefits are equitably shared.
More than 20 United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, including UN Environment, are involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.
The importance and relevance of this initiative for UN Environment
UN Environment has a clear mandate to assist countries in achieving sustainable development. This includes making investment and business practices more sustainable. The Belt and Road Initiative presents a window of opportunity in which UN Environment can help recipient countries use Belt and Road investments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. UN Environment’s efforts to “green” the Belt and Road Initiative will involve using the organisation’s existing expertise in the Belt and Road context.
The main focus will be to work with countries that receive Belt and Road investments in order to help them establish the enabling conditions that will ensure that the investments are environmentally sustainable. UN Environment will also be working with Chinese counterparts to support green investment.
UN Environment has the convening power to bring together the wide range of stakeholders to collaborate in ensuring the sustainability of the Belt and Road Initiative. With the right policies and safeguards in place, the Belt and Road Initiative has significant potential to help countries work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda.
Links to UN Environment Programming
The greening of the Belt and Road Initiative directly contributes to UN Environment’s Medium-Term Strategy and Programme of Work, cutting across several Sub-programmes. These include the Resource Efficiency, Climate Change, Healthy and Productive Ecosystems, Environmental Governance, and Environment under Review Sub-programmes.
Belt and Road Initiative International Green Development Coalition
One of the avenues for increasing the environmental sustainability of the Belt and Road Initiative is the Belt and Road Initiative International Green Development Coalition (BRIGC or The Coalition).
The Coalition was launched during the 2nd Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation which took place in Beijing from 25th to 27th April 2019. The Coalition is an open, inclusive and voluntary international network which brings together the environmental expertise of all partners to ensure that the Belt and Road brings long-term green and sustainable development to all concerned countries in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The current set-up of The Coalition involves 134 partners including 26 Environmental Ministries of UN Member States.
The Coalition’s mission is to integrate sustainable development, in particular environmental sustainability, international standards and best practices, across the five priorities of the Belt and Road Initiative:
- policy coordination,
- financial integration, and
- cultural exchanges.
What will the Coalition Do?
The Coalition will provide a platform for the following:
(1) Policy dialogue and communication to:
- Share green and sustainable development concepts and environmental policy options;
- Provide communication opportunities amongst different Belt and Road stakeholder groups, including business entities, research institutes, international, intergovernmental, non-governmental organisations, and governments;
- Forge a joint research network which could provide support and policy recommendations for green development in the Belt and Road regions.
(2) Share knowledge, data, and analysis related to:
- Environmental protection, pollution prevention and control;
- Green development of the Belt and Road;
- Capacity building on environmental management and sustainable infrastructure development;
- Raising environmental awareness.
The Coalition’s work will be delivered through a biennial High-Level Roundtable for Green Development on the Belt and Road and a number of Thematic Partnerships made up of coalition partners. The areas of Thematic Partnerships may include, but are not limited to:
- Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management;
- Green Energy and Energy Efficiency;
- Green Finance and Investment;
- Improvement of Environmental Quality and Green Cities;
- South-South Environmental Cooperation and Capacity Building towards Realising the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development;
- Green Technology Innovation and Corporate Social Responsibility;
- Environmental Information Sharing and Big Data;
- Sustainable Transportation;
- Global Climate Change Governance and Green Transformation;
- Environmental Laws, Regulations and Standards.
In addition, activities under the Coalition will include a series of research, seminars and workshops related to green Belt and Road, pilot projects, capacity building and outreach activities.