China’s Belt and Road Initiative Could Drive Warming to 2.7 Degrees

Trucks hauling coal at a Chinese-financed open-pit mine in Pakistan's Sindh province in May 2018.

Trucks hauling coal at a Chinese-financed open-pit mine in Pakistan's Sindh province in May 2018. RIZWAN TABASSUM / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a multi-trillion-dollar investment strategy aimed at boosting infrastructure development around the globe, will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions and drive global warming past 2 degrees Celsius unless efforts are made to decarbonize the projects being funded, according to a new report by researchers in China, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

The 126 countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, excluding China, currently account for 28 percent of global emissions. But if development continues as planned, their contributions could jump to 66 percent of global emissions by 2050, the report concluded. This would result in global carbon levels nearly twice what is needed to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, the upper limit of the Paris Agreement target, Climate Home News reported.

If countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative “follow historical carbon-intensive growth patterns… it may be enough to result in a 2.7-degree path even if the rest of the world adheres to 2DS [2-degree] levels of emissions,” the report, published earlier this month, says. The research was led by Ma Jun, special advisor to the People’s Bank of China, and colleagues at Tsinghua University’s Center for Finance and Development and the economic research firms Vivid Economics and Climateworks.

To curb emissions, countries will need to decarbonize more than $12 trillion in infrastructure projects, including finding greener construction techniques and technologies for new roads, railways, bridges, ports, and industrial parks, the report stated. The Belt and Road Initiative will also need to prioritize renewable energy over coal. China has invested $1 billion in coal-fired power projects in the first half of 2019, according to Climate Home News. In total, China has spent $70 billion on Belt and Road Initiative projects abroad since 2013, according to Bloomberg Law.

“If we are serious about avoiding emissions by greening infrastructure across such a rapidly developing, large part of the world, then a combination of concerted national action, international cooperation, and concentrated policy signaling and enforcement will be what it takes,” Simon Zadek, co-author of the report and a visiting fellow at the Center for Finance & Development in Beijing, told Bloomberg Law. “The nature of infrastructure projects means that carbon emissions are locked in at design and implementation stage.”