BRI's 'small and beautiful' projects ensure sustainable development
Reality Check

Editor's note: How could the Belt and Road Initiative champion sustainable development? Following her participation in the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in China, Angela Churie Kallhauge, executive vice-president for Impact at the Environmental Defense Fund, shares her thoughts. The views expressed here are her own and not necessarily those of CGTN.

CGTN: Angela, this is the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. And over the past decade, there have been some criticism and doubts about it. As you must have heard, there's the debt-trap argument. There's the not-providing-enough-local-jobs argument. There's the it's-all-about-politics argument. I'm not going to ask you to comment specifically on these criticisms, but I want to ask you, what do you see in the BRI that's attracting you, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)? Because I know that you've selected the Belt and Road International Green Development Coalition as your partner. So, what [is it] about it that's attractive? And what makes you willing to sort of risk facing potential backlashes?

Angela Churie Kallhauge: EDF has partnered with the Belt and Road Initiative green coalition because the Belt and Road Initiative is massive. Research has shown that by 2050, on the share of carbon emissions among the partners within this initiative, it could be as high as 76 percent of global emissions. Therefore, EDF, an organization that works to drive solutions with high impact in as shorter time as possible, finds this an optimal forum to engage, because we do believe that BRI can have some really positive impacts on addressing climate change, if green considerations are taken on board.

CGTN: In a white paper on BRI published more than a week ago, it said that over the past decade, China has reached environmental cooperation agreements with more than 30 countries and international organizations. It launched the initiative for Belt and Road Partnership on green development with 31 countries. And it has formed the Belt and Road International Green Development Coalition with more than 150 partners from 40-plus countries. So why do you think green development is such a huge thing in this project?

Angela Churie Kallhauge: First of all, the engagement of so many countries in the BRI speaks to the fact that climate change is going to affect all of us. As such, greening the initiative will bring a number of benefits. For one, it is going to be important for the long-term sustainability and success of the initiative. We know also that by greening interventions, you reduce the risk and also some of the financial setbacks that could come about. It is for many of the countries that are involved in the BRI, they also have global compliance and requirements, and therefore greening the BRI will help them achieve this.

CGTN: As you know, this pollute-first-and-clean-up-later is sort of an inevitable path for many countries in reaching prosperity. Many countries become industrialized in this way. Do you think that the BRI has helped solving this problem?

Angela Churie Kallhauge: I think the BRI is making progress in this context. We have seen progress, for example, if you look at the energy infrastructure projects that are being funded through the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank in some of the BRI  (partner) countries. At least two thirds of this fall under the green energy category. Therefore, investing in and constructing green public facilities along the Belt and Road (partner) countries can help this initiative move from the traditional pollute-first-clean-up(-later) and towards a much more sustainable pathway, which is absolutely essential at this time that we live in where climate change is a reality.

CGTN: As we know that you are attending the forum here in Beijing on the BRI. How do you see it? What's your assessment of it so far?

Angela Churie Kallhauge: There is a lot of enthusiasm among the participants who are here for the conference, and a lot of optimism of what the future holds. Much of the discussion that at least I have participated in has focused on the potential for the BRI to drive investments into green energy and green technology. And just as we see on the streets of Beijing with lots of new electric vehicles and electric scooters, this is a reality that we're hearing many of the countries saying we want to see the same happening in our cities.

So, we are looking forward to engaging on how to increase private sector finance into the BRI countries. For example, through the use of carbon markets, we know that by establishing carbon markets, this can be an effective way of getting private capital to green investments while at the same time promoting socioeconomic benefits for the stakeholders involved. We're also very interested in looking at the small and beautiful projects. This is one way to strengthen the people-centered perspective in this context. Because compared to large scale projects, the small and beautiful projects tend to be community friendly, tend to be designed according to the needs of the community with high environmental standards and also with lower financial risk and high economic return.

CGTN: Let me just follow up a little bit. Since you talked about the smaller and beautiful projects. I've read reports recently that the BRI is kind of changing its forms. In international media, they say that instead of this massive, huge infrastructure investment, the BRI is turning its focus into smaller and community-based projects. Do you see this as a future trend for this initiative?

Angela Churie Kallhauge: I think it is a welcome trend, because we do know that to be able to achieve lasting results when it comes to climate change, people need to be at the center of those solutions. And by focusing on those smaller projects, we get more engagement of communities. We get more relevance to communities. Therefore, all of these can ladder up to significant and lasting changes that will not only build the resilience within the countries where these communities reside, but also ensure a sustainable development for the future.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.)

Search Trends