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A Low-Carbon Belt and Road

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is set to spur a sharp acceleration in GDP growth and development across the 60-plus participating economies. In order to ensure that BRI-related infrastructure projects don't also undermine global climate action, meaningful steps must urgently be taken to reduce their carbon footprint.

BEIJING – Discussions about climate action nowadays often focus on the largest past and current emitters. But, if one looks to the future, the biggest climate risks and opportunities lie in the more than 60 countries that have signed up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The BRI, which China launched in 2013, is focused primarily on mobilizing capital for infrastructure investments and improving connectivity among participating economies, most of which are still relatively low-income developing countries. But while it is hoped that the BRI will spur a sharp acceleration in GDP growth and development across these economies, infrastructure and other investments associated with the initiative could also have profound environmental and climate consequences.

As it stands, Belt and Road countries, not including China, account for about 18% of global GDP and 26% of global carbon dioxide emissions. In the coming two decades, however, BRI countries’ GDP average growth rate is expected to be twice that of the OECD, and investments in BRI countries are likely to comprise more than half of total investment worldwide. In the worst-case scenario, the BRI countries could account for over half of global CO2 emissions by 2050.

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