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The Green Belt & Road Initiative: challenges and future prospects - 28 October 2021

Please note that this event has passed.


On 28 October we hosted a panel session examining the Green Belt and Road Initiative. This event was a hybrid event, with both in-person and online audiences. On this page you can find the link to the event recording, along with photographs from the event.

Topic summary

Whilst promoting a narrative of mutual benefit and “win-win partnerships”, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has been described as the largest infrastructure project in history, has received stark criticism regarding its colossal environmental implications, with significant effects on BRI-recipient countries’ ecosystems and their biodiversity.

The initiative has been recognised as playing a fundamental role in meeting the global targets for reduction of CO2 emissions, meaning that even if all non-BRI countries met their targets to reduce emissions, a failure to comply to environmental standards for BRI-related projects would still cause an estimated 2.7C increase in global temperatures.

In 2016, President Xi Jinping committed to develop a greener and more sustainable BRI, following increasing concerns and international pressure surrounding the environmental impact of the initiative. This followed the introduction of the concept of “ecological civilisation” in the Constitution of the Communist Party in 2012. President Xi Jinping endorsed this concept in 2013, declaring his intentions to pursue climate change cooperation and support China’s renewable energy sector and energy transformation. This was reflected in his pledge of “greening the BRI”, also seeing Chinese banks involved in funding BRI projects (such as NDB, AIIB, Silk Road Fund) claiming they included this concept in their investments, creating their own environmental guidelines.

Whilst China is trying to emerge as a green leader on the global stage, the environmental impact of many BRI-related projects and transparency issues surrounding the initiative continue to cause controversy. What does the BRI’s ‘green’ agenda say about the future of the initiative’s environmental impact? How can we assess the BRI’s capacity to engage with transformative – but crucial - solutions to steer the biosphere away from ghastly futures? What is the position of BRI recipient countries in regard to the scope and the limitations of interaction with BRI in light of the environmental concerns? Does the Belt and Road Initiative have the capacity to reduce its level of CO2 emissions and what role would technology play in doing this?

To answer these questions, we held a panel discussion on Thursday the 28th of October as part of the Lau China Institute's inaugural China Week Forum (25th to 29th October 2021).

We were pleased to welcome an exceptional line-up of leading international experts for this panel.

About the speakers

Henry Tillman, Chairman, China Investment Research, Ltd.

Mr Henry Tillman is the Chairman Grisons Peak Services, a London based consultancy specialising in technology, succeeding a 30-year career in global Wholesale Banking management (Barclays, ABN AMRO and Wells Fargo). In 2008, Grisons Peak launched China Investment Research, which tracks all China outbound M&A/equity investments, Venture Capital and, since 2018, also all inbound investments into China. Through this data, Mr Tillman speaks frequently on the BRI at various governments, corporations and universities. In 2018, Mr Tillman co-authored a research study with the Shanghai Institute of International Studies (China) on the Polar Silk Road, focused on the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and LNG. He has since made a number of presentations on this topic in conjunction with the Arctic Circle Assembly (Iceland).

Dr Kostas Tsimonis, Lau China Institute, King's College London

Dr Kostas Tsimonis is a Lecturer in Chinese Society at the Lau China Institute, King’s College London. He has a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies where he also taught courses on Chinese, East Asian and comparative politics. His articles have appeared in the Journal of Youth Studies, Modern China and the Chinese Journal of International Politics, among others. His upcoming monograph titled "The Chinese Communist Youth League: Juniority and Responsiveness in a Party Youth Organization" will be published by Amsterdam University Press. Konstantinos is currently working on a British Academy funded research project on China’s “Balkan Corridor”. Konstantinos’ work concentrates on the ways institutional actors in China’s authoritarian polity (partially) adapt in order to perform new roles in the context of marketization and globalization, and their impact on policy-making and state-society relations. Under this broad theme, he has explored the efforts by state youth and feminist organisations in China to promote policies on youth and women, the evolution of China’s anticorruption institutions and policies domestically and internationally and the global footprint of Chinese SOEs on industrial relations and environmental standards in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative. Apart from his academic research, Konstantinos has also collaborated with civil society organisations, media and the private sector on various research and consultancy projects in the fields of Chinese politics, labour rights and corruption.

Professor Daniele Brombal, Ca' Foscari University of Venice

Professor Daniele Brombal is Associate Professor at the Department of Asian and North African Studies of Ca’ Foscari University Venice, where he teaches courses on China’s society, politics, and environmental governance and co-direct the master program in environmental humanities. His research focuses on institutional change for sustainability in China and along the New Silk Roads. Daniele has a long experience in inter- and trans-disciplinary methods for collaborative research and capacity building, developed in both academic and development cooperation settings. Besides his teaching and research obligations, he contributes to the Marco Polo Centre for Global Europe-Asia Connections and to the Turin World Affairs Institute (T.Wai).

Dr Una Aleksandra Bērziņa-Čerenkova, Head of Riga Stradins University China Studies Centre

Dr Una Aleksandra Bērziņa-Čerenkova is a political scientist, China scholar, Head of Political Science PhD programme and China Studies Centre at Riga Stradins University, Head of the Asia program at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs, and a member of the China in Europe Research Network. After having defended her doctoral dissertation on traditional Chinese discourse, she has held a Senior visiting research scholar position at Fudan University School of Philosophy, Shanghai, China, and a Fulbright visiting scholar position at the Center for East Asia Studies, Stanford University. Bērziņa-Čerenkova is a European China Policy Fellow at MERICS and an affiliate of the Lau Institute at King's College, London. Dr. Bērziņa-Čerenkova publishes on PRC political discourse, contemporary Chinese ideology, EU-China relations, Russia-China, and BRI.

Chair: Alice Politi, Doctoral Student & Project Manager, Lau China Institute, King's College London

Alice is a Doctoral Student, Social Media Coordinator & Project Manager at the Lau China Institute at King’s College London, where she is also a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the Department of War Studies. Her doctoral research focuses on the geopolitical and economic implications of the Belt and Road Initiative in Europe. She graduated from her Master’s Degree in Language and Management to China at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, where she specialised in Chinese Studies, Management and International Law, with a particular focus on Europe-China relations. A recipient of the Hanban Scholarship, she has also studied at Fudan University in Shanghai. She previously graduated with First Class Honours from her Bachelor’s Degree in Chinese and International Relations at Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan. Alice has experience in cooperating with think-tanks, governments and research institutes on issues ranging from national and international security to international cooperation, with a focus on China. She worked as a Consultant for the Strategy Directorate of the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), on a project on China and geopolitics. She also cooperated as an Analyst for two research projects at the Oxford University Silk Road Think Tank, one in partnership with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN/DESA) and has experience as Research Assistant at King’s College London. She has authored a policy paper regarding Chinese investments in Italy as part of the BRI which was published by King’s College London, the inaugural paper in the policy series “China in the World”, a project by KCL Lau China Institute in partnership with KCL School of Security Studies. Her peer-reviewed publications have also been featured on the Journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs and the Italian Institute of International Affairs (IAI).


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