Belt and Road Initiative

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the largest infrastructure initiative ever. Under BRI, Chinese entities will provide more than a trillion RMB (hundreds of billions of dollars) to thousands of projects in dozens of countries. The projects include roads, railways, ports, pipelines, transmission lines and power plants. The word “belt” refers to the ancient silk road from China through Central Asia, Iran and Turkey to Europe. The word “road” refers (perhaps confusingly) to a sea route—the “maritime silk road” that started in China and stopped in Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, Kenya and Djibouti, among other places, before reaching Europe. (See map below.)2

Figure 20-1: Belt and Road

President Xi Jinping announced the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013. In May 2017, President Xi convened a Belt and Road Summit in Beijing, which was attended by 29 heads of state and representatives from more than 60 countries. In his remarks opening the summit, President Xi called the Belt and Road Initiative a “project of the century” that “will benefit people across the world.”4

Chinese government leaders identify low-carbon development as a goal of the Belt and Road initiative. In his remarks to the Belt and Road Summit, President Xi Jinping said:

“We should pursue the new vision of green development and a way of life and work that is green, low-carbon, circular and sustainable...We propose the establishment of an international coalition for green development on the Belt and Road, and we will provide support to related countries in adapting to climate change.5

In May 2017, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Ministry of Environmental Protection, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) jointly issued the Guidance on Promoting Green Belt and Road.6 The document highlights the importance of “ecological civilization and green development” and says:

“We will encourage enterprises to prioritize low-carbon, energy-saving, environment- friendly and green materials and technical processes...We will also guide the businesses to tighten their R&D efforts on key technologies to address climate change.”

The Guidance calls on companies participating in the Belt and Road Initiative to

  • “promote environmental infrastructure construction and improve green and low-carbon construction and operation,” and

  • “observe...the laws, regulations, policies and standards of host countries on eco- environment protection, [and] attach great importance to the appeals of the local residents on environment protection.”

The Guidance on Promoting Green Belt and Road does not contain enforcement mechanisms. NDRC and MOFCOM, which are mostly responsible for approving overseas investments under the Belt and Road Initiative, have limited experience evaluating the climate or other environmental impacts of projects.7

Energy projects are a principal part of the Belt and Road Initiative. The State Council’s Action Plan on the Belt and Road Initiative (2015) calls for more energy projects, including for “coal, oil, gas, metal minerals and other conventional energy sources” as well as “hydropower, nuclear power, wind power, solar power and other clean, renewable energy sources.”8 Data on overall investment in such projects are limited. One study of external financing by China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China found that, from 2015–2017, those banks provided roughly $43 billion for oil, $20 billion for natural gas, $19 billion for hydro, $15 billion for coal, $3 billion for nuclear and $3 billion for solar and wind projects.9



2. For background on the Belt and Road Initiative, see State Council, “Action plan on the Belt and Road Initiative” (March 30,2015),; J.P., “What is China’s belt and road initiative?,” Economist (May 15, 2017),; Zheping Huang, “Your guide to understanding OBOR, China’s new Silk Road plan,” Quartz, (May 15, 2017), chinas-one-belt-one-road-forum-for-its-new-silk-road/; David Sandalow and Xu Qinhua, “Belt and Road Initiative Green Development Conference,” Columbia University and Renmin University (November 19–21, 2017),

3. Zheping Huang, “Your guide to understanding OBOR” (May 15, 2017).

4. “Full text of President Xi’s speech at opening of Belt and Road forum,” Global Times (May 14, 2017),

5. Xi Jinping, “Speech at Opening of Belt and Road Forum,“ Global Times (May 14, 2017),

6. National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Environmental Protection, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Commerce, “Guidance on Promoting Green Belt and Road” (May 8, 2017), https://eng.yidaiyilu. and

7. Kelly Sims Gallagher and Qi Qi, “Policies Governing China’s Overseas Development Finance: Implications for Climate Change,” The Fletcher School, Tufts University (March 2018), CPL_ChinaOverseasDev.pdf.

8. State Council, “Action Plan on the Belt and Road Initiative” (March 30, 2015) at part IV (Unimpeded trade), http://

9. Global Development Policy Center, “China’s Global Energy Finance,” Boston University (accessed July 8, 2018),

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