Already home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, it seems that China’s Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge may join the ranks of Machu Picchu and the Great Wall when it is completed later this year. While in Shenzhen and Macao in June, I was amazed at this true manmade marvel, an example of China’s impressive infrastructure development.
There is no doubt that China has invested more than any other country in its own infrastructure, setting records in its construction of new airports, the world’s largest high-speed train network, and the planet’s longest system of bridges and highways. Through the Belt and Road Initiative, China has committed to maintaining this momentum globally. This is good news, as it addresses the US$6.3 trillion global infrastructure gap that must be filled annually between 2016 and 2030. However, the question is, will China join efforts to build environmental and social sustainability into its infrastructure projects while stepping up its overall levels of global infrastructure investment as well?
Sustainable infrastructure has climbed to top priority status on international development agendas since 2015 when three major international events:
- the Addis Ababa Third International Conference on Financing for Development,
- the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit, and
- the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris—underlined its critical role in advancing development.
China is a great candidate to lead these efforts, as it has accumulated extensive engineering, manufacturing, and science and technology expertise that it can apply to sustainable infrastructure efforts. Fortunately, they are already doing so.
The China International Contractor Associations (CHINCA), for instance, has released Guidelines of Sustainable Infrastructure for Chinese International Contractors, the first industry-wide effort in China to spur enterprises to fund, design, build, and operate infrastructure projects more sustainably. Alongside 1,700 participants, I witnessed the launch of this effort during CHINCA’s 8th International Infrastructure Investment and Construction Forum, the most influential platform for infrastructure cooperation. At the event, CHINCA explained that they had drawn from the performance standards accepted by multilaterals like the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to design 68 sustainability indicators. Together, these indicators form not simply a set of guidelines, but also a tool for assessment. Moving forward, CHINCA plans to actively promote the Guidelines among their 1,000 plus member companies who are undertaking major overseas infrastructure projects.
At the IDB, we are excited to see CHINCA take this important step toward sustainability and are proud to have been involved in the process. We have partnered with CHINCA since 2014 to promote cooperation between China and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) through workshops, high-level forums, and infrastructure-focused knowledge products. In 2016, our organizations collaborated on a joint technical report on sustainable infrastructure which provides a practical and process-oriented perspective for Chinese institutions and sets the stage for a new chapter of China-LAC infrastructure cooperation. Less than a year later, CHINCA built upon this effort to launch the first Chinese industry guidelines on sustainable infrastructure.
The LAC region alone faces an infrastructure gap of about US$180 billion per year. In recent decades, China has become our region’s key source of investment and a dynamic supporter of infrastructure development. And we are pleased to note that China is expanding its efforts to provide sustainable infrastructure financing. For example, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the new China-initiated multilateral development bank, has completed its second annual meeting under the theme of Sustainable Infrastructure, which reminds us that China’s Belt and Road Initiative could be a critical vehicle for promoting sustainable infrastructure around the world.
At the IDB, we believe infrastructure is an engine for sustainable development. Thus, partnering with China, the infrastructure superpower, on sustainability is the motor for delivering better infrastructure projects. That is why we are closely collaborating with AIIB, Chinese banks, and private firms to support transformative investments in our region. I am very confident that the IDB-China partnership on building and funding sustainable infrastructure will help open a new chapter in international cooperation.
If you are interested in the topic of Sustainable Infrastructure, please read the following posts: