While every energy-saving bulb makes a difference, there are only a small number of existential frontiers in our efforts to deal with climate change. Of these, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), involving over 70 countries from Central Asia to Latin America, has been dangerously ignored.
New infrastructure will be a major contributor to global carbon emissions over the coming decades, accounting for over half of new sources according to the World Economic Forum. Such investments in countries involved in the BRI could make up as much as 60 percent of global infrastructure investments over the coming two decades. That is, BRI-involved countries could be the single largest source of growing carbon emissions over this critical period.
A forthcoming report by Tsinghua University and partners has, for the first time, aggregated growth and carbon scenarios for BRI countries. Notwithstanding data weaknesses and uncertainties, the results indicate that these countries are currently on track to generate emissions well above 2-Degree Scenario (2DS) levels based on current infrastructure investment patterns and growth projections.
BRI-involved countries could exceed their 2DS carbon budget by as much as 11 gigatons by 2030 and 85 gigatons by 2050. In this scenario, these countries would account for 50 percent of global emissions by 2050, up from 15 percent in 2015, if all other countries succeeded in following a 2DS pathway.
There is an urgent need to act at scale to ensure that low carbon infrastructure investment becomes a norm in countries involved in the BRI.
The BRI itself makes a difference in two ways. First, it increases the scale and pace of infrastructure investment, although to varying degrees in different countries.
Second, it raises the possibility of a more focused, leveraged set of climate-related interventions given the high concentration of financial flows and associated policy interest and influence.