The reaffirmation of China’s commitment to Paris climate agreement by Prime Minister Li Keqian while the US President announced his country’s withdrawal, confirms China’s new concern for the environment. This pro-environmental orientation will certainly have a positive impact on the Belt and Road initiative.
1. Implications for the Belt and Road Initiative
a) Strengthening the Sino-European axis
First of all it is no coincidence that Li Keqiang made this statement at the Sino-European summit. The EU and China have announced plans to intensify any type of cooperation on climate change and renewable energies. Europe and China are driven by the same desire to develop new tools to better protect environment and promote a greener economy.
The Belt and Road initiative could be the first beneficiary of this new environmental alliance between China and Europe. Both regions could accelerate their cooperation by building sustainable infrastructure along the new Silk Roads. The development of the Belt and Road will create new opportunities for Chinese, European and Asian companies. Already last month, the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Investment Bank for Infrastructure had declared their willingness to support sustainable development projects linked to the BRI.
b) China, a responsible power
From a strategic point of view, the US withdrawal from Paris climate deal will push all Asian states towards China and the “Belt and Road” initiative. Several regions of Asia are highly vulnerable to climate change-related phenomena. Thus the rise of waters could very seriously affect a country like Bangladesh. Nearly a fifth of its territory could disappear if the ocean level rose by one meter, leading to the displacement of tens of millions of climate refugees.
For these states, the urgency of the situation will prompt them to fully adhere to regional cooperation projects like the BRI.
Following the US withdrawal from Paris climate deal, China emerges with Europe as a pole of stability on the world scene, assuming major power’s responsibilities.
2. Conditions for a Greener Silk Road
For the Belt and Road to truly become a greenway linking Europe to Asia, the project will have to fulfill several conditions.
a) Support from local populations
Firstly, the projects financed for the Belt and Road will have to be supported by the local populations who will have to be involved in.
b) Focus on “small” projects
The “Belt and Road” should not focus on major projects, but develop multiple initiatives at the local level to respond more sustainably to the specificities of each region.
c) Promoting entrepreneurs
Finally, OBOR promoters will have to encourage and finance entrepreneurs bringing sustainable solutions along the new Silk Roads.
China and BRI-related investors will have to discover new talents so that, in a manner similar to the old Silk Roads, new environmentally friendly techniques and concepts may emerge along the OBOR.
The creation of grants for business startups in particular in the field of renewable energies, should be put in place to make the OBOR greener.