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BRI a recipe for sustainable development

2022-05-25 | China Daily

An electric multiple unit (EMU) train of the China-Laos Railway crosses a major bridge over the Yuanjiang River in Southwest China's Yunnan province, Dec 3, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

New guidelines ensure Belt and Road will be catalyst for green development

The Chinese government recently issued new green guidelines for the Belt and Road.

The policy document from China's top economic planner and three ministries is very good news for the planet. Aligned to the Paris Agreement, the guidelines are a great recipe for making Belt and Road a vehicle for green development.

As all must now be aware, there are three environmental crises: The nature, climate and pollution crises. The Guidelines provide the tools to address all of them at once.

The Guidelines have been issued after President Xi Jinping made three major promises on behalf of China over the last two years. China will peak its carbon emissions before 2030, be carbon neutral before 2060, and it will plant an area the size of Belgium every year from now to 2030; it will be a green leader with its emerging great national park system; and there will be no overseas coal investment by the Chinese State or by Chinese companies. All of these promises cut to the core of the threefold planetary crisis. The guidelines set the path to ensure these promises will be delivered upon in real life.

Five major messages stand out from the Guidelines.

First, the Belt and Road will be built on the highest Chinese and global standards for the environment.

Up to now, the normal practice by Chinese investors was to abide by the local laws where they invested. Now the Guidelines say that the Belt and Road investment will be based on the generally-accepted high standards of the world, or China's higher standards when applicable.

This is critically important because many developing countries tend to have much lower standards than those generally accepted elsewhere. Now we will be able to lift the standards to the highest level. This is crucial.

This is also addressing a long-standing concern from Western companies who complained that competition with Chinese companies was unfair. Now, the playing field is leveled. This is a fantastic step forward.

Second, the Belt and Road will be based on the Paris Agreement and on the multilateral processes to fight climate change. This will bring more wind and solar investments.

This also means no more new coal investments. Those coal projects which are already finalized or close to being finalized should be retrofitted to be as eco-friendly as possible. However, that should be done without extending the lifetime of coal projects.

Third, there is a private-sector focus in the Guidelines. They say that the government should give the guidance, but it is the private companies who will follow through, bringing change to scale.

This focus on the private sector is pivotal to the policy's success because China now has so many world-leading green companies which can invest in countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative. Think of CATL, a global leader in lithium-ion battery development and manufacturing. It remains the single largest supplier of electric car batteries, with one-third of the global market. Think of BYD, a Chinese green legend, producing 10 percent of the batteries globally as well as electric buses, cars and high rails.

In the Green Belt and Road Coalition, we have, with good partners, developed the Green Development Guidance. This green light system is a great step to guide investors and financial institutions to green their investments along the Belt and Road, addressing the triple planetary crisis as one.

Fourth, there is a focus on connectivity to ensure that the roads and railroads are built in harmony with nature. It is important to make under- and over passes for wild animals. The China - Laos Railway or the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway in Kenya are brilliant infrastructures constructed by Chinese companies, with a view to abating the impact on nature. We need a more connected world, on grid and energy, on roads and rail.

And finally, there is a focus on technology. That's an essential dimension, because we are moving into the era of artificial intelligence and China has much to offer in this field.

Compared to 40 years ago, the high-tech sector has now made the computing power of the world one trillion times bigger. And the price for storing data is at the same time millions of times lower. This is an enormous driving force for change.

It should be no surprise that artificial intelligence can help in the fight against environment destruction too. The technology is already being used to send natural disaster alerts in Japan, monitor deforestation in the Amazon, and design greener smart cities in China.

Chinese companies such as Huawei, Alibaba, Tencent and many others can help the world in this digital revolution. Digitalization can cut waste in energy consumption, boost power generation from renewable energy, and make transportation and cities green.

Take Tencent as an example. The tech giant is creating a "net city" that puts people and the environment first. Based on artificial intelligence technology, the "net city" will be a 2 million square meter neighborhood in Shenzhen. It will comprise Tencent offices and residences for its employees, as well as public amenities such as parks and a waterfront area.

Take Huawei as another example. Huawei makes solar power more efficient at the world's largest concentrated solar plant in Qinghai. It helps us distinguish between the beautiful song of the whales off the Irish coast and the noise from shipping. It assists Saudi Arabia's Red Sea Energy Storage Project to power an entire city. Artificial intelligence is deployed to reduce risks and to make production more efficient.

All in all, the Guidelines give us exactly what we need: The framework for making the Belt and Road a major vehicle for a green world. The Belt and Road Initiative is by far the most important investment venture in our time, embracing more than 130 countries. The greening of the Belt and Road will undoubtedly help us create an ecological civilization.