In 2013, China's President Xu Jinping launched the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) to improve regional cooperation and connectivity on a trans-continental scale. The initiative is expected to strengthen infrastructure, trade, and investment links between China and approximately 65 other countries that collectively account for over 30% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), approximately 40% of the earth's total land area, 75% of known energy reserves, 55% of total CO2 emissions, and 60% of the world's population per the UN Environment.

The BRI consists primarily of the Silk Road Economic Belt, linking China to Central and South Asia and onward to Europe, and the New Maritime Silk Road, linking China to the nations of South East Asia, the Gulf countries, North Africa, and on to Europe. Six other economic corridors have been identified to link other countries to the BRI.

To date, BRI has established over 200 large projects in infrastructure (e.g., roads, railroads, ports) and energy sectors (e.g., renewable energy and traditional fuel related mining, pipeline, transportation, etc.). While this initiative has created tremendous economic growth opportunities, it also introduces global environmental impacts on many environmental sensitive areas. Most of these projects are being funded by international financial institutes, such as The World Bank and Asian Development Bank, and should therefore include a rigorous environmental impact assessment. However, projects supported and funded by private institutions and local governments often place economic benefits ahead of consideration of environmental impacts.

Recently, stakeholders and non-governmental organizations urged China's leadership and key BRI investors to establish a standardized strategic environmental and social assessment program to understand and address the environmental risks. The Chinese government has responded to the NGO concerns regarding the project's impact on the environment with various directives over the last year.

Despite the environmental challenges that need to be addressed, the Belt Road Initiative has introduced opportunities for 65 countries to meet the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and contribute to overall global environmental sustainability.

For more information about recent progress of this initiative, please see the following articles.

World Economic Forum "Three ways China can make the New Silk Road sustainable" by Shouqing Zhu and Sha Song, September 15, 2018
Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA.org) "China's Global Renewable Energy Expansion" by Tim Buckley and Simon Nichols, January 2017