Sustainable and resilient infrastructure design is vital for the Belt & Road… not just for Asia, but for the world as well
Just over four years after President Xi Jinping first launched his vision for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the concept is fast becoming a reality. With a vision of reform, development, trade and innovation at the heart of the concept, BRI is set to reshape and revitalise trade links around the globe.
The countries along the various corridors account for some two-thirds of the world’s population, but only one third of the world’s GDP. So there is tremendous potential for growth. And the new infrastructure developed under the BRI banner will be the key to the unlocking this potential.
That is not to say that some of this infrastructure would not be built without BRI, of course. In fact, the Asia Development Bank estimated that some US$1.7 trillion per annum would be required for infrastructure investment in Asia between 2016-2030 at current growth rates.
However, BRI is vital as a catalyst for growth and is likely to be extremely important in developing an overarching strategic coherence to infrastructure development across the region. Because, ultimately, BRI serves to drive home the crucial point that investing in infrastructure is a win-win for all partner nations – and not a zero sum game.
These links create the possibility for raising living standards for millions of people across the region, so the economic case is clear. However, BRI must be far more than that if it is to be judged a success.
Ultimately, this is more than just a growth story driven by demographics, economics and geopolitical considerations. More importantly, it is a story about the fundamental choices we face as a shared global society.
We, each and everyone involved in BRI, have to work together to ensure that this new infrastructure is future-proofed. We have to build the new world to far higher standards than we have today to ensure that the infrastructure of tomorrow is not only efficient and delivers value for money, but also sustainable and resilient.
Aiming for high standards of sustainability is the only way we have a chance of meeting the COP21 commitment to limit average global temperature increase rises to 2°C. And making this new infrastructure resilient is the only way will be able to cope with the climate change impacts we’re already seeing and will see more of in the future.
Put simply, we must ensure that the new development along the Belt and Road corridors are more sustainable and resilient than we’ve seen to date. Because if Asia – and the world – simply builds to existing standards, then climate change risks will become ‘locked in’ and we will repeat the past mistakes of congestion, pollution, and a whole host of other external costs paid for in health, lost potential and climate refugees but at much more dangerous and critical level than in the past.
That is the key message for everyone involved in BRI today. We have to build more than the basic infrastructure required, but the ‘right’ infrastructure we need for our shared future.
If we get it right, Asia can set an example to the world. However, if we get it wrong then the sheer pace and scale of infrastructure development in Asia means that our mistakes will be embedded in our environment for decades to come.
That is the shared challenge we face. But for the future of Asia and the world, it is imperative that we build this right, first time. And the B&R initiative is a major opportunity – perhaps our best opportunity – to work together to make that happen.