An inconvenient truth along the Belt and Road

Temperatures in countries “along the Belt and Road” will continue to rise, with the increase greater in high-latitude regions, predicts a new report from China’s National Climate Center.

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s global infrastructure investment program. Initially, 65 countries in Asia and Europe were considered “along the Belt and Road” and the phrase later came to include some western and northern Africa countries.

These are some of the regions worst affected by meteorological disasters, including heavy rain, high temperatures, droughts, and typhoons. Among the top 10 countries severely affected by such disasters from 2000 to 2019, six were “along the Belt and Road”, the Global Climate Risk Index shows.

The National Climate Center report states that the average annual temperature in most countries along the Belt and Road grew significantly from 1981 to 2022. The fastest rise was in Central and Eastern Europe, where the report states an increase of 0.75C per decade. By the end of this century, it predicts the average temperature in countries along the Belt and Road will increase by 1–3C under a low-emissions scenario; and by more than 5C under a high-emissions scenario.

Liu Hongbin, deputy chief engineer of the National Climate Center, told China Environment: “In the context of climate warming, drought events occur more frequently in the Belt and Road land areas, last longer, and have a wider impact on food production and water resources. Their ecological and socio-economic impacts are also more severe.”

The BRI has a mixed record regarding the climate footprint of its infrastructure projects. The central government has issued guidelines to promote green development and cooperation in addressing climate change through the BRI. Renewable energy accounted for 57% of China’s overseas energy investment in 2020, surpassing fossil energy for the first time, according to statistics from Beijing-based thinktank the International Institute of Green Finance.

Read China Dialogue’s previous analysis on China’s efforts to green the BRI.