China’s “new silk roads” threaten to destroy climate hopes

Vincent Lucchese 05/09/2019
The giant infrastructure development project led by China risks on its own making any effort to keep global warming below 2°C obsolete, warns a Chinese think tank.

Tradotto da Eve Harguindey
They represent up to a trillion dollars of investment to build a long trade route from China to Europe. Beijing’s “New Silk Roads” pharaonic project, launched in 2013, involves the construction of ports, roads, railways, dams and pipelines in dozens of partner countries across Eurasia. Above all, it is likely to generate equally excessive carbon dioxide emissions.
This is the alert launched on September 2 by a Chinese think tank, the Tsinghua Center for Finance and Development, relayed in a dispatch by AFP. By modelling the development generated by China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 17 of the 126 countries that have signed cooperation agreements with China, Tsinghua warns that these projects will “boost the carbon budget”. These new silk routes alone would thus risk dangerously diverting us from the Paris Agreement’s objective of keeping global warming well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial era levels.
Geopolitics versus climate
Even if the other countries, including China, India, Europe or the United States, followed a trajectory that would allow them to maintain the 2°C warming rate, this objective would be untenable if the countries modelled by the think tank maintained their emission dynamics caused by these new silk roads. Some countries, including Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, are expected to reduce their emissions by 68% by 2050 compared to their current trajectory, so that we can hope to stay below 2°C, says the Tsinghua Centre.
“The BRI’s growth dynamic is so strong that if its carbon trajectory is poor, what others do will somehow no longer matter,” warns Simon Zadek of Tsinghua Centre. However, the think tank believes that a proactive policy and the development of green technologies would reduce these emissions by 39% in all countries concerned by the development of infrastructure linked to the Chinese Silk Roads.
The message is in any case unlikely to slow down Beijing’s ambitions. New Silk Roads, Belt and Road Initiative or Yidai Yilu in Chinese – for One Belt, One Road – the different names of this project cover a unique and very ambitious Chinese strategy. Beyond the economic benefits, Beijing intends to use these infrastructures to strengthen its geopolitical influence throughout the region and develop international institutions that compete with those currently dominated by the United States, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which provides substantial financing for these new silk routes and positions itself as an alternative to the World Bank. In passing, China’s new roads scrupulously bypass India, the other Asian giant whose influence and development it would like to limit.
All bad students
Not sure, therefore, that CO2 emissions are likely to influence this objective, which should help to place China “at the forefront of the world in terms of global power and international influence” by 2050, as stated by the President of the People’s Republic in 2017. The call to moderate carbon emissions from these new silk roads in predominantly Asian countries is also likely to be quite inaudible as the major powers and historical CO2 emitters do not respect their own commitments. Neither the United States nor the main European countries are within the lines and only 16 countries out of 197 signatories to the Paris Agreement have taken action to achieve their objectives, according to a report published in October 2018 by the World Resources Institute, the Graham Research Institute and the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy. However, even if all international commitments were respected, they would still lead us to a catastrophic global warming of 3°C.
The next IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) special report on the links between climate change, the ocean and the cryosphere, due to be released on 25 September, may provide additional international motivation. In a version that AFP has obtained, it warns that the rise in water levels alone could cause 280 million refugees if the temperature rises by 2°C, so in a very optimistic assumption. At the current rate of emissions, ocean levels could rise by more than one metre by 2100, exposing New York to floods of more than two metres every five years and Shanghai to floods threatening $1,700 billion worth of property by 2070. Nine of the twenty cities most at risk of sea-level rise are also in China, notes Futura Sciences. Compared to the gains Beijing hopes to make from its new silk routes.