BRI: embracing Chinese green practices for a sustainable future
Published: Oct 18, 2023 02:25 PM
Photo: IC

Photo: IC

Editor's Note:

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Through the lens of foreign pundits, we take a look at 10 years of the BRI - how it achieves win-win cooperation between China and participating countries of the BRI and how it has given the people of these countries a sense of fulfillment.

In an interview with Global Times (GT) reporter Li Aixin, Erik Solheim (Solheim), former under-secretary-general of the United Nations and former executive director of the UN Environment Programme, recalled how the BRI helped shorten a previously long journey in Sri Lanka to a half-hour trip. "We will all be losers in a de-globalized, de-coupled world. The BRI can play a key role in bringing the world together," Solheim said. 

This is the 18th piece of the series.

GT: How do you evaluate the role of the BRI in promoting development in participating countries over the past 10 years?  

The BRI has been a major driver of development since it was announced by President Xi Jinping in Kazakhstan 10 years ago. The China-Laos Railway has connected landlocked Laos to the Chinese and European rail network, making it possible for Laos to sell more goods and welcome more tourists. Rail corridors in Kenya and from Djibouti to Addis Ababa connect the interior of Africa to the coast, bringing opportunities for much faster development in East Africa. The Bandung-Jakarta railway in Indonesia, Hanoi metro, roads and ports in Sri Lanka - there are great examples of good south-south and BRI projects in almost every corner of the world.

GT: In your experience of traveling around the world, has any BRI-related story left a deep impression on you?

Yes, many! I'll just mention two.

When I was chief negotiator in the Sri Lanka peace process 15 years ago, it took a long time to travel from the airport to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. When I came back last year, it took half an hour on wonderful Chinese-built highways. 

Traveling through Mombasa, a coastal city in Kenya, you see a lot of poverty and run down houses. Then all of a sudden, a green, clean, well-run oasis opens up. It's the end station of the Nairobi-Mombasa railway which links the capital Nairobi to the coast. The rail station stands out and is showing the future for Kenya.

Erik Solheim  Photo: unep.org

Erik Solheim Photo: unep.org

GT: The EU proposed the Global Gateway, and the US proposed the Build Back Better World. What do you think are the similarities and differences between these projects and the BRI?

I really wish success for the Western initiatives. What developing nations ask for is a choice of good cooperation with both China and the West. Unfortunately, up to now, a number of the Western-led initiatives have been more like media events. They lack structure, secretariat, finances and clear direction. Nearly all nations in the world want to see close people-to-people relations, investment and political cooperation with both China and the West. No one wants to choose.

GT: Some people from the West are talking about "de-coupling" and "de-risking." Both seem to be another way of saying "de-globalization." Do you think "de-coupling" and "de-risking" will affect the BRI? And what role will the BRI play in maintaining globalization?

: Decoupling is probably the most unwise idea in the world today. It's outright dangerous. Facing climate change, environmental degradation, economic troubles, war in Ukraine and other places, and the threat of pandemics, we need more, not less, cooperation. We will all be losers in a de-globalized, de-coupled world. The BRI can play a key role in bringing the world together. Almost all developing countries have made BRI agreements with China. As an example, when President Xi met all the leaders of Central Asia recently in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, they made a very ambitious declaration on future green cooperation between China and Central Asia.

GT: You have previously said that the BRI is a fantastic vehicle to promote green global development, which can boost the economy and ecology at the same time. Could you elaborate on how you think the BRI has achieved development of the economy and ecology?

In the beginning there were too many fossil fuel projects among BRI programs. In the BRI International Green Development Coalition, we argued this should stop. When President Xi pledged to stop building new coal-fired power projects overseas, it was one of the most important environmental decisions ever. Also, it happened at a time when important BRI nations like Bangladesh, Kenya and Pakistan decided they could grow their economies and go green without coal. The BRI will in the next decade become the world's most important vehicle for green energy and green transport. We will see massive investments in solar and wind power, hydrogen, electric batteries and more.

GT: How do you view China's goal of achieving harmony between humanity and nature in modernization? In what way is China's story in pursuing harmony between humanity and nature relevant to other countries? 

China now covers between 60 percent and 80 percent of all major green technologies in the world - solar, wind, hydro, batteries, electric cars and high-speed rail. Companies like Longi, BYD and CATL are the world leaders in their sectors.

More remarkably and maybe less noticed abroad, China is also a global leader in protecting nature. It's embarking upon one of the most massive national park programs, with a focus on Qinghai Province and Xizang Autonomous Region. China is by far the biggest tree planter in the world and the global leader in desert control in Kubuqi, Inner Mongolia and other places. China has been hugely successful in the recovery of endangered species like the Giant Panda, Tibetan Antelope and Snow Leopard. 

A new center for mangrove restoration is being set up in Shenzhen and the fishing ban in the Yangtze will restore that magnificent ecosystem.

The Belt and Road is a great opportunity for the world to learn from good Chinese green practices.