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IDSA-ECYLF Essay on Display Writing Competition: Our First Place Winner!

Published by Foreign Affairs Bulletin by IDSA on


The following was the first place winner of our “Essay on Display” Competition, Cseperke Szilagyi!


1. Introduction

In the era of man-made climate change and global warming, governments have a leading role in handling emerging ecological and environmental crisis by creating detailed policies, applying laws and regulations and opening the horizon to incorporate new technologies, innovative ideas and solutions. As one of the most powerful countries – both politically and economically – China takes the role of the leader not only on a continental but on a global level by dominating international cooperation on environmental protection (Vaughan. 2018). On the other hand, the European Union – with its long history of environmental policies – has also set ambitious goals such as becoming the first continent with zero net greenhouse gas emission and playing a key role in promoting sustainable development on a global scale. Each of them envisions the concept of “green development” (or “green growth”) that can be accomplished by creating an atmosphere where economic prosperity and environmental protection go hand-inhand, thus leading to a win-win situation in both economic and ecological aspects. However, the underlying ideas as well as the means and methods of implementation highly differ from one another. In the following, I will take a closer look on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, in comparison with the EU’s European Green Deal focusing on the key concepts and main differences and examining the possible outcomes at the end.


2. An overview on the key concepts

2.1 Belt and Road Initiative

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is China’s influential strategy on international economic cooperation incorporating ambitious goals regarding infrastructure, trade and investment. The plan was announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 and it consists of two initiatives; the “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road”. Connecting 138 countries (Fig. 1.) and 29 international organizations via a cooperation agreement (Memorandum of Understanding), the BRI covers a region that accounts for 30 percent of global nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 40 percent of global GDP growth and 44 percent of the world’s population. China has invested in more than 2,000 projects with a combined value of 755 billion USD (Fig. 2.). The Belt ad Road Initiative has officially five main goals; policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds.


2.1.1 Green Belt and Road Initiative

Over the past years, green development and environmental protection became more and more a focal point for the BRI. In 2017, the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) had launched “The Belt and Road Ecological and Environmental Cooperation Plan” alongside a “Guidance on Promoting Green Belt and Road”. The latter underlines its basic principles as ecological civilization and green development. Furthermore, the MEE established a new working group named “BRI International Green Development Coalition” (BRIGC) to realize the green development goals of the BRI, e.g. green transport, finance, innovation, urbanization, standard (Peng, L. 2020).


2.1.2 Ecological Civilization

The concept of ecological civilization forms the substance of China’s socio-economic vision and integrates the environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainable development. It represents a form of modern ecological socialism and highlights the harmonic relationship between humans and nature. Despite its seemingly new ideological meaning in contemporary politics, the idea of eco-civilization borrows ancient traditional beliefs from Buddhism and Confucianism and places them into a 21st century political narrative (Kuhn, B. 2019).


2.1.3 Green Development

The idea of green development can be defined as an ever-growing economic prosperity that doesn’t pose any harm or threat to the environment. Thus, no matter the extent of economic growth, natural assets and resources can continuously thrive and flourish while supplying the sustainable needs of humanity. There are various aspects of green development from investing in renewable energy sources to financing public transport-system to replanting deforested areas. Green development appears to be the major goal of Chinese environmental protection policy, but the EU has also placed its target on this concept.


2.2 European Green Deal

The European Green Deal, launched in 2018 by the European Commission under the presidency of Ursula von der Leyen, is regarded as Europe’s new growth strategy. Among others, achieving climate neutrality is the key concept of the Green Deal accompanied by a long-term vision of transporting these concepts to the global scene, e.g. with the help of the United Nations. The plan of a vast economic transition consists of not only the implementation of climate neutrality, but also the transformation of linear industrial production into a circular one. In order to carry out a “just” economic transition, the EU has created the Just Fund in cooperation with the European Bank of Investment to set up a financial plan for the Green Deal (Fig. 3.). Besides the monetary aspects of the initiative, a legal obligation is also required to ensure the implementation of the policies, hence the European Commission had established the European Climate Law that will enshrine the 2050 EU objective in legislation.


2.2.1. Climate Neutrality

By definition, climate neutrality means that the net amount of greenhouse gas emission equals to zero. Nevertheless, achieving the goal of zero emission is not possible with the current production system. However, reducing emissions as much as possible while also compensating for the remaining part might be a more realistic approach. Thus, net-zero emission can be achieved by cutting back on the amount of greenhouse gases released in the atmosphere and by investing in compensating activities, e.g. carbon sequestration or offsetting measures. The initiative of the European Union proposes reaching climate neutrality by 2050 with combining the elements of emission reduction and carbon offsets.


3. Main differences

3. 1 Aim of the Initiative

Although, the concepts and motives of the Belt and Road Initiative are very similar to those of the European Green Deal’s, the core aim of the two plans differ from one another. The main goal of the establishment of the BRI was to provide Asia with an adequate amount of investment and to promote its economic growth via building infrastructure. Though later, China integrated the notions of green and sustainable development into the BRI, its focus on economic and infrastructural prosperity remained of key importance. On the other hand, the European Green Deal had been launched with the idea of “green” transformation and transition in every economic sector. Similarly to China, the European Commission has set its goals on funding and investment, however, theoretically, the importance of economic growth cannot outweigh that of sustainable policy making.


3.2 Tools for Actions

Similarly to the core aims of the initiative of China and of the European Union, the means and methods also significantly differ from one another.


3.2.1 Methods of the Belt and Road Initiative

For China, infrastructural investment being at the centre of policymaking, main tools of action include low-carbon operation and construction of buildings, the creation of eco-industrial parks and the recyclation of construction materials. As for financial plans, the establishment of a green development fund as well as the promotion of green foreign aid and a guidance of greenoriented investment decisions are on the agenda (Song, S. 2018). Chinese government also encourages enterprises to develop low-carbon and energy-saving materials, techniques and services, also to publish annual environmental reports. According to “The Belt and Road Ecological and Environmental Cooperation Plan”, green brands in industries e.g. railway, electricity, automotive, communications, new energy, iron and steel will be nurtured (Treyer, S. 2019).


3.2.2 Methods of the European Green Deal

Conversely, the European Green Deal – stressing the importance of climate neutrality – has set its targets in order to achieve the state of net-zero emissions. With the establishment of the European Climate Law, the European Commission seeks to ensure that all policies contribute to this goal. Therefore, they launched a new target with a time horizon of 2030 to reduce emission by at least 40% compared to the levels of 1990. This target is accompanied by in place legislation including the integration of land use and forestry into emission reduction efforts and a legislation on renewable energy and energy efficiency (Burns, Eckersley, Tobin. 2020).


3.2.3 Communication and Cooperation

Both China and the EU intends to strengthen its communication with research institutes and to base its policies on reliable reports and scientific data. Apart from investing in scientific research, both initiatives underline the importance of engaging with the civil society. The BRI focuses on cooperation with social and non-governmental organizations, think-tanks and enterprises while the EU has created the European Climate Pact with the aim of raising awareness, providing targeted support and an online platform for open public consultation. Furthermore, there is a strong engagement on both sides to strengthen Chinese-European relationships through environmental cooperation and green development programmes such as the EU-funded EC-Link project that seeks to cooperate with the BRI in fields e.g. sustainable urbanization and transport, or green finance.


3.2.4 Trade and Taxation The approaches of the two initiatives on trade and taxation are very different, with the BRI focusing on green trade and green supply chain, and with the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) working on a ‘cap and trade’ principle. The method of the BRI is to take environmental factors into consideration when creating free trade agreement, e.g. expanding the exchange of environmental products and services (such as air and water pollution treatment, or waste management and disposal), and reducing or cancelling export tax rebates in case of heavy pollution industries. In addition, the BRI seeks to establish a green supply chain management, including all parts of the supply chain from production to consumption. On the other hand, the EU, in accordance with its priority of emission reduction, has created a ‘cap and trade’ system where companies are able to buy emission allowances which they can trade with one another. However, there is a limit of these allowances, thus leading to the total amount of emissions to fall by an increasing level continentally.


4. Prospects of meeting policy objectives

4.1 The Belt and Road Initiative

Over the past years, various research institutions in-and outside of China had examined the impact of the BRI’s infrastructural projects. Despite its aims of green finance and development, the BRI fails to meet the goals of environmental protection on multiple levels. According to a study by the World Resources Institute, the share of fossil energy in BRI’s investments is still very high (between 60% and 90%) partially due to the complexity of the projects that makes environmental assessment procedures extremely difficult. Also, a lack of transparency and the low environmental demand of host countries are leading to serious ecological harm. Unfortunately, the outlook for the future is even worse. Studies estimate that the baseline scenarios for BRI will lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions up to twice the level required to remain below the 2°C line of increase in global temperature by 2050. However, these studies also suggest changes in standards and measures that – if taken seriously – can have a positive impact on the outcome of BRI’s green development projects. In one hand, they propose greater transparency on the carbon impact of investments, also the adoption of green investment principles by all global investors. On the other hand, enhancing the environmental standards of China and of host countries, while not only minimizing the impact of their investments on biodiversity but questioning the advisability of such infrastructural projects, could result in a significantly better effect on the environment.


4.2 The European Green Deal

Prospects of the European Green Deal differ from those of China’s BRI, however, there is also a lack of descriptive measures and regulations that would be crucial in order to provide with the legal and financial background necessary for the accomplishment of the EU’s ambitions (Bodin, E. and Stainforth T. 2019). According to the claims of experts, scientists and nongovernmental organizations, the 40 percent plan on emission reduction is not enough to limit global warming to 1,5°C. Moreover, relying on unproven carbon-removal technologies such as carbon capture and storage is inadequate and doesn’t provide reduction efforts with a long-term solution. They urge for a more drastic layout of plans, e.g. clear and concrete measures and regulations, a more ambitious action focusing on appropriate funding and legislation, and an initiative of reducing greenhouse gas emission at least by 65% (preferably 75%) by 2030. Climate Action Network Europe, a non-governmental coalition on climate and energy, also calls for setting the goal of the achievement of net-zero emission by 2040 instead of by 2050 (Siddi, M. 2020).


5. Conclusion

Both China and the European Union has set its ambitious goals regarding environmental protection policies. However, they lack the appropriate laws and regulations as well as the fundamental information and financial and legal systems to realize these policies. Given that climate change is an urgent issue that needs to be solved now, any delay in implementing these policies will lead to serious ecological and environmental consequences. The question, whether China or the EU will act more quickly and vigorously remains open. A thriving, prosperous economy and a flourishing natural environment can exist next to each other only, if these countries, alongside the global community, are eager to drastically change their approach, vision and lifestyle. 6. References “5 facts about the EU’s goal of climate neutrality”.



Belt and Road Initiative Quick Info – Green Belt and Road Initiative CenterFig. 1. Countries of the Belt and Road Initiative (source: “Belt and Road Initiative Quick Info”, Green Belt and Road Initiative Center,


Investments in the Belt and Road Initiative – Green Belt and Road Initiative CenterFig. 2. Investments in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) 2020 (source: “Belt and Road Initiative Quick Info”, Green Belt and Road Initiative Center,


The various elements of the European Green Deal (COM(2019) 640 final).... | Download Scientific DiagramFig. 3. The various elements of the European Green Deal (source: “The relevance of sustainable soil management within the European Green Deal”, Research Gate,



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