Belt Watch

One Belt One Road Watch
Belt Watch
An in-depth look at the environmental impacts of China’s Belt and Road Initiative

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an ambitious push to better connect China with the world through the build out of infrastructure—such as roads, rail lines and shipping routes to facilitate trade—as well as energy development in the form of pipelines and power plants. More recently, China has also tapped into technology to expand its digital reach.

First proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013 as a new, modern Silk Road, the multitrillion-dollar mega-project now involves more than 120 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Pacific.

Most of the projects are funded through loans China provides to other countries as a means for it to expand international connectivity and cooperation, according to Chinese officials, and share its economic growth. But critics say the loans are trapping recipient states in debt and the way those investments are handled is often opaque and confusing.

This map shows several routes that are part of China's Belt and Road Initiative. The project has continued to expand and branch out to as far as Latin America. We've been following the environmental implications of the BRI in the Asia-Pacific region and will continue to do so through our forthcoming reporting. Zoom in to see geo-tags and links to all the stories we've identified that cover the initiative thus far.

Beyond the economic and political ramifications of the initiative, however, are deep concerns about the impact it will have on the environment. Regional experts and analysts have expressed concerns about the effect these mega-projects will have on water resources, air quality and agriculture, among other natural resources. Climate experts say it will lock in fossil fuel infrastructure that will make it difficult if not impossible to meet the targets laid out in the Paris Agreement. And many local environmental activists and community organizers have protested against the development of projects seen to have a detrimental impact on the environmental assets they depend on.

To address these criticisms, Chinese officials recently announced a series of efforts to “green” the BRI through the pursuit of development that Xi had earlier called “green, low-carbon, circular and sustainable.” But that effort, too, has been met with some skepticism.

“While just recognizing the problem is a positive step for China, these initiatives are generally too voluntary to be effective, too duplicative to be adding value, and too opaque to be adequately assessed,” a brief from the Center for Strategic and International Studies published on Nov. 5, 2019, stated.

Belt Watch is EJN's effort to monitor, investigate and report on these issues by tracking projects currently under development and assessing the impacts they’ll have on the environment. It includes a series of stories that investigate one of the world’s biggest and most impactful initiatives. Many were produced by China Dialogue, a bilingual website focused on China and the environment. Others were produced by EJN's other partners including EkuatorialMekong Eye and The Third Pole, often with the support of grants and training from EJN. 

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