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3 Ways to Mobilize China’s BRI for Energy Transitions

File image of the Chinese-financed and constructed De Aar wind power project in South Africa. Image via Xinhua.

By Rebecca Ray

A global consensus is forming: countries around the world must embark on energy transitions to mitigate climate change and protect the health of their own citizens. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) could play a key facilitating role, as more than half of BRI member countries have carbon neutrality targets. But to do so, China must foster greater cooperation to overcome technical, financial, and diplomatic barriers. These are the findings of a new Special Policy Study for the China Council on International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) on the topic of “Key Pathways on a Green and Low-Carbon BRI.”

For this CCICED SPS, the Boston University Global Development Policy collaborated with experts in China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), BRI Green Development Institute, and BRI International Green Development Coalition, among other agencies. The authors focused on three avenues for green BRI development: technical, financial, and diplomatic cooperation:

  • Technical cooperation raises capacity within host country governments and industry stakeholders. One innovative model to follow in this process is triangular cooperation, bringing together the financial and technical resources of China, high-income donor countries, and multilateral bodies to train practitioners in BRI host countries. Drawing from case studies of China’s renewable energy technology promotion and cooperation in Ghana and Zambia, the SPS shows that this new cooperation model can expand through long-term mechanisms and additional platforms for coordination.
  • Financial cooperation incorporates greater resources from non-traditional investors and guides them to mitigate local social and environmental project risks to ensure long-term success. To “crowd in” new investors, the SPS explores several avenues, including expanding the support and guidance for public-private partnerships, blended finance, and green bond issuances.  To guide investor performance, the authors developed approaches to incorporate the “whole lifecycle” project governance approach highlighted in the 2021 “Green Development Guidelines” issued by MEE and the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM). The “whole lifecycle” approach encourages due diligence across the phases of a project, from preparation to design, construction, and completion.
  • Diplomatic cooperation can help the BRI fulfill its potential as a platform for international collaboration to raise living standards sustainably across the world. By fully incorporating energy transition cooperation into the BRI, China can build on existing multilateral progress made through the Glasgow Climate Pact and the Kunming Declaration. However, energy transition remains a massive challenge for BRI countries and deepened international cooperation will need to focus on resolving high-carbon industrial structure and its carbon lock-in effect in order to achieve climate and development goals.

Rebecca Ray is a Senior Academic Researcher at the Boston University Global Development Policy Center.

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