Chinese train
(Photo credit: N509FZ / Wikimedia)

BRI: China’s Belt and Road Initiative. This enormous project may well pose some of the biggest obstacles to meeting Earth’s climate challenges, yet it has flown largely under the radar, at least in the U.S., and at least for those who tend not to read much about global finance and politics.

What is it? BRI is a gigantic, ambitious Chinese plan – already well under way – to finance and build new land and maritime infrastructure throughout much of the world, including lots of increased power generation and power use. For a short, lively introduction, watch this video from Vox. Or, for an informative sample of how the topic is usually covered, as a complex and often opaque geopolitical story, read this New York Times piece.

Critical environmental issues raised by BRI have also attracted some sophisticated coverage. Here is one good overview article, from Yale Environment 360; here is another, from Mongabay. But most such articles (which are written primarily for specialists) have focused in particular on two significant studies, both reasonably readable:

  • Decarbonizing the Belt and Road: A Green Finance Roadmap (2019, Tsinghua University, Vivid Economics, and ClimateWorks Foundation). This report “highlights the imperative of urgent action to drastically reduce future carbon trajectories if there is to be any likelihood of achieving the Paris Agreement on climate.” Or, to add visual emphasis to the words: this report “highlights the imperative of urgent action to drastically reduce future carbon trajectories if there is to be any likelihood of achieving the Paris Agreement on climate.” Simon Zadek, one of the lead authors, has a good and much shorter blog post on the Brookings Institution website. Another short summary of the fossil fuel problem is in this opinion piece at The Guardian.
  • Greening the Belt and Road Initiative: WWF’s Recommendations for the Finance Sector (2017, World Wildlife Fund and HSBC). This report focuses on environmental impacts other than those specifically addressing climate change. Here is a short newspaper piece about it. And here is a good, readable overview by a leading scientist on how infrastructure development damages biodiversity.

China power plantThe potential climate consequences of China’s Belt and Roads

Postscript: If you’re interested in the expansion of China’s growing influence in the world of scientists, you might want to read the journal Nature’s 2019 five-part series about a small but potentially very influential part of BRI: “China’s Science Silk Road.”

In addition, The Economist issue of February 8, 2020, carried an in-depth 12-page special report by Dominic Ziegler, available online for subscribers or behind a paywall: “China’s Belt and Road: Return to Centre.”


This series is curated and written by retired Colorado State University English professor and close climate change watcher SueEllen Campbell of Colorado. To flag works you think warrant attention, send an e-mail to her any time. Let us hear from you.

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