The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is one of China’s signature foreign policy projects in the Xi Jinping era—a sprawling vision for interconnection between China and the rest of the world. Infrastructure investments are a core component of this vision. Chinese banks and companies have signed outbound financing and project contracting deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars since the emergence of the BRI in 2013.1
Both before and during the BRI era, the energy and mining sectors have been major focus areas for Chinese outbound finance and project contracting. Activity in these and other carbon-intensive sectors—including industry and transport—has been heavily concentrated in the developing world, home to almost all BRI participants.
The BRI has significant climate impacts. Green development and other environmental considerations played little role in BRI activities in its early years. In recent years, such considerations have gained prominence, including in President Xi Jinping’s September 2021 pledge that China would no longer build new coal power plants overseas. (This pledge coincided with a period of retrenchment in China’s outbound financing and contracting activity, which began slowing in the late 2010s and fell sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic.) Analysis from April 2022 reported that 12.8 GW of coal power projects had been “shelved or cancelled” since Xi’s announcement, while the fate of much more coal power capacity in pre-construction stages remained uncertain.
This chapter begins with a review of the BRI’s evolution and structure, as well as its green development policies. The chapter surveys BRI activity in the energy and mining sectors, leading BRI financiers and studies of the BRI’s climate impacts. It concludes with comments on the BRI’s evolving significance for climate.