Green BRI is necessity of our times

By CAO ZHIHONG / 06-06-2024 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

Windmills at Hailing Island in Yangjiang City, Guangdong Province Photo: TUCHONG

On October 18, 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the opening ceremony of the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF). In his keynote address titled “Building an Open, Inclusive, and Interconnected World for Common Development,” President Xi Jinping stressed that China will work with all parties involved to deepen Belt and Road (BRI) partnerships of cooperation, usher this cooperation into a new stage of high-quality development, and make relentless efforts to achieve modernization for all countries. He solemnly declared eight pivotal actions through which China will support high-quality BRI cooperation, which include building a multidimensional BRI connectivity network, supporting an open world economy, carrying out practical cooperation, promoting green development, advancing scientific and technological innovation, supporting people-to-people exchanges, promoting integrity-based BRI cooperation, and strengthening institutional building for international BRI cooperation. Among these eight actions, “green development” holds particular significance. It embodies China’s ecological civilization concept and serves as a practical pathway for promoting the construction of a global ecological civilization.

In the autumn of 2013, during his visits to Kazakhstan and Indonesia, President Xi Jinping proposed the joint construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, collectively known as the BRI. In March 2015, to advance the implementation of the BRI, the National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Commerce jointly issued the “Vision and actions on jointly building Belt and Road.” This document highlighted the imperative of promoting ecological progress in conducting investment and trade, increase cooperation in conserving the eco-environment, protecting biodiversity, and tackling climate change, and join hands to make the Silk Road into an environmentally friendly one. 

In June 2016, during his visit to Uzbekistan, President Xi Jinping proposed working together to build a “green Silk Road,” marking a pivotal moment when the initiative of building a green BRI officially entered the international discourse. The notion of a green BRI has since become integral to the broader BRI framework. 

China further solidified its commitment to this vision by issuing two special documents: the “Guidance on Promoting Green Belt and Road” in April 2017 and the “Opinions on Jointly Promoting Green Development of the Belt and Road” in March 2022.

Real need 

The BRI countries face ecological challenges. The BRI encompasses six major economic corridors spanning the continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa. Due to the vast geographical span, the ecological environment exhibits regional differention and geographical scale characteristics, resulting in diverse issues. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the BRI demonstrated strong vitality and vigor, stabilizing international supply chains while accelerating the construction of international logistics networks and providing strong support for the global fight against the pandemic. In the post-pandemic era, the BRI continues to develop, presenting a flourishing landscape. 

The international community has paid close attention to the green BRI advocated by China, anticipating that it will inject strong impetus into global sustainable development. A collaborative study by Kang Taek Goo, a research fellow at the Korea Environment Institute, and Jung Giwoong, a professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, pointed out that since 2012, green low-carbon development has been increasingly emphasized in China’s domestic strategy and foreign policy. China actively integrates the BRI with green low-carbon development, promoting the development of eco-friendly industries and technologies in BRI countries.


While China’s domestic ecological civilization construction is in full swing and has achieved significant accomplishments, the country also pays close attention to global ecological environmental changes, aiming to provide a Chinese solution for global ecological progress. 

In April 2017, the former Ministry of Environmental Protection, along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Development and Reform Commission, and Ministry of Commerce, jointly issued the “Guidance on Promoting Green Belt and Road (hereinafter referred to as the Guiding Opinions).” This document systematically elaborates on the significance of building a green BRI and emphasizes the need to firmly establish concepts of innovative, coordinated, green, open, and shared development to actively contribute to green BRI construction. 

The Guiding Opinions explicitly proposes integrating ecological and environmental protection into all aspects and the whole process of BRI construction. This includes share China’s experience and practice in ecological civilization and green development, enhance capability for eco-environment protection, prevent eco-environment risk, facilitate joint achievement of 2030 sustainable development goals by countries and regions along the route and provide sound service, support and guarantee for the building of the BRI.

Faced with long-standing problems such as unreasonable natural resource allocation, ecological environmental pollution, resource constraints, and improper economic structures, the Guiding Opinions advocates for cooperation and sharing. It supports BRI countries in abandoning obsolete economic models to drive development through technological innovation, and in industrial transformation and upgrading to develop resource-saving and environment-friendly industries. This approach enables people of BRI countries to genuinely experience the benefits of improved livelihoods brought by effective ecological environment governance and share in the achievements of green BRI construction. 

In May 2017, the former Ministry of Environmental Protection issued the “The Belt and Road Ecological and Environmental Cooperation Plan (hereinafter referred to as the Plan).” The Plan clearly outlines the establishment of a sound comprehensive coordination mechanism to strengthen multi-level and multi-channel communication and benign interaction, including between government departments, between central and local governments, and between governments and enterprises and the public. The Plan emphasizes studying and introducing a number of targeted policies and measures that reflect both needs and objectives to improve the support for eco-environmental protection cooperation through innovative practices and better services.

On this basis, the Plan proposes 25 key projects, including six focused on policy coordination, four on facilities connectivity, three on unimpeded trade, two on financial integration, four on people-to-people bonds, and six on capacity building. These projects, led by China and covering BRI countries, play a crucial role in advancing the construction of the green BRI and demonstrate China’s major-country demeanor in contributing to global ecological civilization construction. 

The Guiding Opinions and the Plan, as responses to the important directives of the CPC Central Committee on promoting the green development of the BRI, serve as the foundational guidelines for green BRI construction. They not only elucidate the importance and overarching strategies for advancing the green BRI, but also reflect China’s firm determination and concrete actions towards this goal. 

Green coalition 

Since General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping proposed the BRI, related cooperative projects have steadily progressed. After more than three years of development, the first BRF was held in Beijing in May 2017. This inaugural forum clarifies the future direction of BRI cooperation, maps out the specific route of the initiative’s construction, identifies key projects, and proposes the establishment of the Coalition for Green Development on the Belt and Road. In April 2019, with the convening of the second BRF, the BRI Green Development International Coalition (BRIGC), jointly initiated by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment of China and international partners, was officially established. 

Since its establishment, the BRIGC has continuously contributed to the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the achievement of the Paris Agreement targets. The BRIGC creates a platform for policy dialogue and communication, sharing green development concepts and policies, providing communication channels for BRI stakeholders, promoting the construction of joint research networks, and offering support and policy recommendations for the green development of the BRI. This platform offers data and analysis related to the green BRI, promotes environmental management capacity building, and enhances environmental awareness in participating countries. Additionally, the BRIGC establishes a platform for green technology exchange and transfer, promoting green technology cooperation, enhancing the capabilities of BRI-related countries in ecological environmental protection, climate action, and pollution prevention, and driving the development of green infrastructure, green investment, and trade. Currently, the BRIGC consists of over 40 Chinese and foreign member institutions from countries such as China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.

High-quality development 

At the 2021 annual meeting of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) themed “Green BRI and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” Erik Solheim, former UN under-secretary-general and executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, highlighted China’s significant achievements in afforestation, poverty reduction, and renewable energy development. He noted that the BRI will create substantial opportunities for comprehensive poverty eradication through green investment. Moving forward, Solheim emphasized the need to strengthen green investment and green technology transfer, actively promote green finance, and advocate for green lifestyles and best practices in green development, allowing more BRI countries to benefit.  

The policy research project group of the CCICED on “Green BRI and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” conducted a comprehensive analysis of relevant policies, methods, and practical experiences in environmental management both domestically and internationally, and proposed policy recommendations for building a green management system for BRI projects, aiming to provide green support and momentum for the high-quality development of the BRI. This study includes a detailed investigation and analysis of the second wind farm of the Three Gorges Pakistan Wind Power Phase II project, a typical case in the field of new energy cooperation within the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The study summarizes the environmental management strategies and protection measures taken at various stages of the second wind farm, such as strictly implementing environmental impact assessment procedures, strengthening environmental protection monitoring and management during construction, and selecting sites as far away from nature reserves as possible.

Internationally, countries involved in the BRI, as well as those not yet formally participating, are paying close attention to the planning and development of the BRI, including the green BRI, and scholars abroad have begun to study topics such as green finance and sustainable economic models under the BRI framework. Allison Goh, a research associate from the Yong Pung How School of Law at Singapore Management University, has long focused on the current state and future prospects of green sustainable finance based on the green BRI. In her article, Goh points out that the Chinese government has been continuously improving policies and regulations to promote the construction of the green BRI and the development of green finance, and has been fully supporting the sustainable development projects of the BRI.

As the initiator of the BRI, China, with its responsibility as a major country, has been actively promoting related projects while supporting the economic restructuring and sustainable development of participating countries. As of October 2023, more than 150 countries and over 30 international organizations have signed cooperation agreements on BRI cooperation. This extensive participation reflects the concerted efforts of the CPC and the Chinese nation to advance the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind. 

On its 10th anniversary in 2023, the achievements of the BRI have already been remarkably evident. In the face of increasingly severe ecological challenges, and after 10 years of vigorous BRI development, green BRI cooperation has become the common goal of the Chinese people and those of participating countries. In the context of unprecedented global changes not seen in a century, jointly building a green BRI reflects a choice responsive to the needs of the times and the insights of history.

Cao Zhihong is an associate professor from the School of Marxism Studies at University of Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Edited by WENG RONG