China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), announced in 2013, includes over 60 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Russia, and Europe and ambitiously draws its inspiration from the ancient Silk Road that connected trade routes from China to the world. The BRI aims to stimulate trade and economic growth for all those countries along the route by improving infrastructure and connections, both rail and maritime connections, and investing in a broad array of infrastructure projects including bridges and nuclear plants, among others.

These projects will be structured around two central developments, the The Silk Road Economic Belt—which focuses on connecting China to Europe through Central Asia and Russia, bridging China and the Middle East through Central Asia, and facilitating transport between China and Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Indian Ocean—and the twenty-first-century Maritime Silk Road—using Chinese ports to connect China with Europe through the South China Sea and Indian Ocean, and connect China with the South Pacific Ocean through the South China Sea.

The development of these rail and maritime connections stands to, not only, increase trade volumes and improve efficiency, but also decrease the volume of air freight between Europe and China, directing larger volumes to the improved railway lines which promise to reduce transport times and increase reliability. Aided by improved rail-infrastructure and unified signal and data systems, the train connection between Europe and China could represent a significant cut in freight transport emissions, efficiency only further assisted by technological and data advances that increase predictability and allow for dynamic responses to shifting conditions.

However, achieving these sustainability goals hinges on the electrification of rail transport, a change Chinese BRI projects area already ushering in, to make railroad transport truly sustainable. Here, the BRI’s parallel development of rail and maritime transport is particularly crucial. Maritime transportation, while slow, is a more environmentally sound option.

We will explore the positive impact the BRI can have on the environment and the possibility for increasing sustainability through its projects at the World Alliance for Low Carbon Cities Autumn forum in Edinburgh this year. Please join us and our partners at the China-Britain Business Council and the Confucius Institute of the University of Edinburgh to explore the BRI and its impact on sustainability with the aid of expert perspectives from leading figures worldwide.

Read about the sustainability benefits of rail transport

China’s BRI and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals work to complement each other 

The Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development assess the BRI’s benefits and hindrancesThe Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development assess the BRI’s benefits and hindrances


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