Most countries along the BRI are developing countries and emerging economies. They account for 31 percent of the global GDP, but constitute about 62 percent of world’s population(1). At the same time, the ecological environment is very fragile, due to the distribution of most of the global biodiversity hotspots(2). 58 percent of the world’s deserts are also concentrated in this area(3). In a certain sense, the historical Silk Road is also an international transmission channel for dust and pollutants(4). Balancing environmental protection and economic development is a persistent challenge for these countries. So it is an inevitable and necessary trend to transform the development model of "polluting first and then treating" to "developing while treating".
This article focuses on the environmental issue regarding BRI and discusses how environmental protection is involved in the key cities of BRI at the three levels of region, city and district.
The position and content of environmental protection in BRI
Environmental protection has become one of the important areas in BRI. This importance is not only reflected in providing the necessary resources and environmental support for economic activities(5). It can also play the role of "Green Lead" from the perspective of the green industry. In addition, it can help the BRI countries communicate better to build consensus(6).
The environmental protection projects in BRI are not just engineering projects and facilities, but also involve themes of economy, policy, law, platform construction and other aspects. Several of them are listed here: 1) Environmental pollution control; 2) Nuclear and radiation safety; 3) Climate change adaptation and mitigation; 4) Environmental tracking and evaluation of major project; 5) Development of environmental protection industry; 5) Development of green financial instruments; 6) Promotion of environmental awareness training, etc.
Environmental protection at the urban level regarding BRI
In a broad sense, environmental protection policies and measures in BRI are mostly related to urban development. In a narrow sense, the environmental protection measures directly related with cites can be summarized as the following three points.
Regional ecological environmental protection combined with city cluster development
The BRI environmental protection projects need to consider the return on investment they would provide. Therefore, they are often located in areas with great economic development potential. Taking the Lancang-Mekong environmental cooperation project as an example, the Lancang-Mekong River passes through six countries and is an important economic growth belt in Southeast Asia. Along the Lancang-Mekong River, there are important cities such as Qamdo and Jinghong in China, Vientiane and Pakse in Laos, and Phnom Penh in Cambodia. By taking measures like the top-level design of sustainable use of water resources, air and water pollution prevention, the ecological health of the river basin can be guaranteed, which is crucial to the sustainable development of city cluster. Other examples are like the Yangtze River Delta Ecological and Green Development Strategy, the Bohai Rim urban agglomeration in China, the Baikal Basin City Cluster in Russia and so on.
Combination of urban ecological environment improvement and green space construction
The BRI puts forward stricter requirements for the environment of node cities. Urban green space construction is an important way to promote green urbanization and enhance the urban environment. Taking the construction of "Park City" in Chengdu in China as an example, "Park City" emphasizes the importance of "ecological value", which is an ideal city construction model that takes urban green space system and park system, park-oriented urban and rural ecological pattern and scene as the basic and pre-configuration elements of urban and rural development(7). Beijing also proposed a new plan of afforestation and urban forest construction of one million mu (164736.9 acres) in 2018.
Internationally, the BRI cooperation projects are mainly focused on biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management, such as the China-Laos cross-border biodiversity conservation corridor, etc., which has a weak direct relationship with the improvement of the urban ecological environment.
Eco-city and green development demonstration zone construction
Urbanization projects like industrial parks, eco-tourism areas, and new urban districts are the focus of cooperation among countries along the BRI. Along BRI, the construction of ecological and green development demonstration zones can have a wider influence and may form urban construction templates for other cities.
At present, China has launched the construction of the first green development demonstration zone——the China-Singapore Eco-City in Tianjin, which is 30 square kilometers in large, with a planned population of 350,000 inhabitants. The eco-city is located in a coastal saline-alkali land, and the planning requires that green buildings and clean energy use ratio reaches 100%. The renewable energy utilization rate strives to reach 20%. Despite the problems of the sustainability of saline-alkali land reconstruction, this exploration path is worthy of recognition. Various other demonstration areas are being constructed such as Beijing Green Development Demonstration Area(8), the Leading demonstration zone of ecological civilization in Tianfu New District of Chengdu and so on. "The construction of eco-city and green demonstration area is also gradually being promoted in typical cities such as the China-Belarus Industrial Park of Belarus in Minsk, and Port of Pakistan in Gwadar,
What will need to be seen is that the outlined practices see sufficient capital investments, and manpower, and that evidence-based adjustments will be adapted to achieve future sustainability. In the implementation of BRI, how to keep the balance between urban development and environmental protection is a continuous issue, which needs to be explored at different scales in regions, cities and districts.
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(3)Ministry of Environment of China. 2015 Annual Report on Remote Sensing Monitoring of Global Ecological Environment[R], 2015.
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(5)The Belt and Road Ecological and Environmental Cooperation Plan [Z].2017.05.
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(8)The Experience and Model of the National Green Development Demonstration Zone Will be Promoted [J].Energy Saving of Non-Ferrous Metallurgy, 2015,31(1): 65-66.
The opinions expressed are those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or views of ISPI