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Artikel

18 Feb 2022

Autor:
Christoph Nedopil, Dimitri De Boer, Danting Fan, China Dialogue

Understanding China’s latest guidelines for greening the Belt and Road

"Understanding China’s latest guidelines for greening the Belt and Road" 15 February 2022

This January, less than six months after publishing the “Green development guidelines for overseas investment and cooperation”, China’s ministries of commerce and of ecology and environment issued another set of recommendations with a similar name: “Guidelines for ecological and environmental protection of foreign investment cooperation and construction projects”.

How is this document different to last year’s? And how does it add value?

Simply put, the latest release reaffirms recommendations made in the earlier guidelines but has more focus on specific issues of environmental risk management throughout the whole lifecycle of Belt and Road projects. It provides more robust direction to manage environmental risks in specific sectors, such as energy, transport and mining.

It also reflects wider developments in recent months. Since the publication of last year’s guidelines, in July, China has made important commitments to support green overseas development. Notably, President Xi pledged China would no longer build new coal-fired power plants abroad, and would support green low-carbon energy in developing countries. In November, he further elaborated that China is exploring the establishment of an early warning and assessment system for overseas project risk.

These announcements underscored the need to further specify responsibilities of enterprises in addressing environmental risks when engaging overseas. Thus, the new guidelines further emphasise an important aspect of the 2021 guidelines: that it is no longer sufficient for Chinese enterprises operating abroad to abide by host-country environmental standards – particularly so if the host country has insufficient environmental regulation or law enforcement. Rather, where local regulations are insufficient, companies are encouraged to apply international or Chinese environmental rules and standards across the life of a project. [...]

What do the guidelines say, in more detail?

In its 25 articles, the 2022 guidelines describe how companies should integrate environmental considerations through a project’s life – from planning to construction, management and deconstruction, as well as in information disclosure.

Accordingly, enterprises are encouraged to:

  • adopt international standards or China’s stricter standards for environmental protection if they operate in host countries with weak environmental governance;
  • improve their internal environmental management systems with reference to international practices, and appoint dedicated personnel to be responsible for ecological protection;
  • engage consulting services that are familiar with domestic and foreign environmental law, and have the international capability to support environmental evaluations;

Enterprises are also encouraged to focus on reducing environmental risks in three areas:

  • on pollution, they should control and minimise emissions related to water, noise, dust, vibration and solid waste, as well as other pollutant discharges;
  • on climate, companies should “make a positive contribution to addressing climate change”, for example, by preferring low-carbon projects (in energy, for example) and in “green supply chain management and green procurement”;
  • on biodiversity, they should, among other things, conduct a targeted survey before constructing a project; if the results show high risks to biodiversity, they should reconsider the site.

The integration of these ecological considerations throughout a project, including the new stipulation to engage outside expertise to provide environmental impact assessments, align with many international good-practice standards for financing international projects.

Furthermore, the guidelines provide specific environmental risk management recommendations for four sectors:

  • Energy: enterprises should focus on clean and renewable energy projects; hydropower projects should reduce adverse impacts on aquatic biodiversity.
  • Petrochemicals: projects should focus on controlling pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and environmental accident prevention.
  • Mining: enterprises should focus on pollution control measures and waste disposal.
  • Transportation: transport infrastructure projects should avoid nature reserves and important wildlife habitats.

[...]

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