The Green Silk Road is a concept of sustainable development linked to the countries of the BRI. Its aim is to make BRI projects greener and more sustainable, in a way that will provide livelihoods for the communities connected to the initiative and also provide electricity, one of the essential energy sources of our time.
Why is this lesser-known aspect of the initiative so important? There are three main reasons. Firstly, sustainable development and the shift to 'green' energy sources fits into a growing global trend that can be seen as an effective way to help implement the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Secondly, the Green Silk Road is also a key priority for China, given Beijing's ambition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Thirdly, climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity and a concerted global effort is needed, particularly in emerging and developing economies, to slow and reverse the process. The Green Silk Road therefore relies primarily on three renewable energy sources: hydro, solar and wind.
Thanks to successful economic reforms and green energy policies, China's hydropower sector has grown twenty-fold in the last forty years. Beijing is making sure that it continues to invest actively in this sector under the Belt and Road Initiative. It is seeking to transfer its experience and advanced technologies to countries that need them. The Isimba and Karuma hydropower plants in Uganda, which were set up under the Belt and Road Initiative and have received financial and technological support, are a good example. The two hydropower plants have doubled Uganda's energy capacity. Similar examples can be seen in other African countries such as Ethiopia and Cambodia in South-East Asia.
The transition to solar power will also require significant efforts, as much of the infrastructure in the developed world is based on fossil fuels, but the economic benefits of solar power are becoming increasingly evident. Many Belt and Road initiatives are directly linked to the technology of converting solar energy into electricity. A good example of this are the solar power plants being installed in Kenya, Egypt, Kazakhstan and Vietnam, among others.
In addition, wind energy is also a key part of the Chinese initiative, as it is one of the simplest and most affordable renewable energy sources. However, this claim is only true if we are talking about areas with constant wind. So-called wind corridors are found in both China and Central Asia, and Beijing and the countries that have joined the initiative in the region are exploiting them. Kazakhstan, for example, is home to the Zhanatasskaya wind farm, which has become a symbol of the Green Silk Road.
Many countries are only beginning to recognise the potential of the Green Silk Road, but this could change in the future. Taking into account the environmental problems facing the BRI countries, the initiative offers a clear solution to address them, and it is also worth monitoring the projects from a European perspective and exploiting their potential.
The author is a researcher at the Eurasia Center
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