In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced China’s intention to launch a bold and innovative approach to develop the geographic, political and thematic scope of the ancient Silk Road trade routes. What began as, “The Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road”, is now known as The Belt and Road Initiative. 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.
26 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 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 organization’s existing expertise in the Belt and Road context.
While this will involve working with counterparts in China, 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 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, and cuts across several Sub-programmes – most crucially, the Resource Efficiency Sub-programme, with direct input into the following expected accomplishments:
- Science-based approaches that support the transition to sustainable development through multiple pathways, including inclusive green economy and sustainable trade, and the adoption of sustainable consumption and production patterns at all levels (Sub-programme 6 (a)).
- Public, private and financial sectors increasingly adopt and implement sustainable management frameworks and practices (Sub-programme 6 (c)).
UN Environment’s work to green the Belt and Road Initiative is also closely linked to other Sub-programmes, such as the Climate Change, Healthy and Productive Ecosystems, Environmental Governance, and Environment under Review Sub-programmes.
International Coalition for Green Development on the Belt and Road
One of the avenues for increasing the environmental sustainability of the Belt and Road Initiative is the International Coalition for Green Development on the Belt and Road. (See list of coalition members)
The Coalition is being led by UN Environment and the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment. It will be an open, inclusive and voluntary international network which will bring 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 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.
The Coalition aims to promote international best practices and collective actions for a green and sustainable Belt and Road Initiative. Coalition partners include representatives from governments, the private sector, academia, civil society and other interested stakeholder groups. The official launch of the Coalition is scheduled for early 2019.
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 organizations, 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 SDGs capacity building;
- Green technology innovation and Corporate Social Responsibility;
- Environmental information sharing and big data;
- Sustainable transportation and infrastructure;
- Global Climate Change Governance and Green Transformation.
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.
- Leadership committee (Chairs, Vice chairs and Senior Advisors).
- Biennial High-Level Roundtable for Green Development on the Belt and Road.
- Thematic Partnerships:
- Major part of the Coalition that conducts research, academic exchange and seminars of the thematic area;
- Each to be led by Leading Partners that are responsible for fund-raising and organizing relevant activities.
- Responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Coalition, including managing work plans, budget, etc.;
- Organize Coalition meetings and provide coordination support to the Thematic Partnerships;
- Lead communication and outreach activities for the Coalition.
Joining the Coalition
The Coalition welcomes as Partners any stakeholder – including governments, business entities, research institutes, academia, as well as international, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations - that meet the following requirements:
- Endorses the mission of the Coalition and willing and ready to make contributions to the coalition’s activities.
- Participates in Coalition activities, including the biennial High-Level Roundtable for Green Development on the Belt and Road.
- Provides expertise, leadership and resources (financial or in kind) to support work of the Coalition and its Thematic Partnerships that correspond with the respective organization’s area(s) of interest and expertise.
- Contributes advice and support with regard to the development of the Coalition, and advocates for the objectives of the Coalition and the key messages from the biennial High-level Roundtables.
- Carries out concrete actions to promote the Green Development of the Belt and Road.
For any organization/entity wishing to join the Coalition, please fill in this form and send it to: