Assessing the Impact of China’s Global Infrastructure Spending on Climate Change (Law 807O)

China is engaged in massive energy-infrastructure spending around the world. Whether that spending is high-carbon or low-carbon will do much to determine the future of global climate change. One swathe of that spending is known as the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI. But there’s confusion about (1) which Chinese-funded energy-infrastructure projects outside China are part of the BRI and which are not and (2) how Chinese energy-infrastructure spending, both as part of the BRI and beyond it, is affecting the carbon-emissions trajectory in key countries. These are crucial questions as the world crafts policies and financial mechanisms to meaningfully curb carbon emissions.

In this policy lab, students will continue research underway at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance into (1) the opacity of definitions of the BRI and (2) how green or brown Chinese-infrastructure investments are, both in the BRI and outside of it. The work will proceed as case studies of four countries. The initial work has begun to point up two important hypotheses: (1) that, because of the fuzziness of definitions of what constitutes the BRI, analyzing Chinese foreign energy-infrastructure investment writ large is more important than analyzing so-called BRI investment specifically, and (2) that the environmental effect of Chinese energy-infrastructure investments abroad depends more on policies in the host countries than on Chinese policies. These conclusions, illustrated with real-world examples in the four case-study countries, have the potential to reframe Western attitudes toward Chinese energy spending in ways that could promote more international cooperation in battling climate change.

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