UN Sustainable Development Goals underlying the Green Belt & Road

UN Sustainable Development Goals underlying the Green Belt & Road


China’s Green Belt & Road Initiative and the UN Sustainable Development Goals are, respectively, the largest infrastructure project and most ambitious internationally agreed human goals in recent history. Both will need to work in partnership to achieve significant impacts by 2030.

In less than 40 years, China has reduced its poverty rate from 90% to just 2%¹ – coming very close to achieving the first of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): No poverty.

This is not the only one of the 17 SDGs that China is focussed on either. As its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) continues to develop, China has committed to an increasing focus on ensuring the sustainability of both the projects and the industries that support this, such as resources and mining, both domestically and internationally.

Unveiled in 2013 by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, during visits to Kazakhstan and Indonesia, BRI is an economic and trade development spanning continents, with objectives to bring countries together, create large markets, improve infrastructure, and assist with capital flows and cultural exchanges.

The initial focus for BRI has been on improving physical infrastructure along land corridors that roughly equate to the old silk roads. Complementing the land routes are the maritime silk roads which aim to invest and foster collaboration in South East Asia, Oceania and Africa. BRI is one of the largest infrastructure and investment projects in history, at the outset it covered 68 countries and encompassed 65% of the world’s population.

With the signing of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this initiative expanded to engage the principles set out under these SDGs. Ratified by 193 countries via UN resolution in 2015, these Goals include 169 global targets grouped into 17 goals, and replaced the Millennium Development Goals which had a set end date of 2015. The end date for the SDGs is 2030.

At inception, BRI only covered 30% of world GDP but a much larger 65% of world population². The countries it touches have considerable populations and will have a significant impact on the success of the SDGs by its end date. In 2017, BRI expanded to take on the mantle of Green Belt & Road to show the heightened emphasis on sustainable improvements to industry practices and living standards, which the leadership of China wants to align with SDGs.

While BRI and the SDGs were started in different ways, there are many similarities in what they aim to achieve. If they are to both be successful across Asia, Europe, the Pacific and Africa they will need to work together.

To this end, there are many lessons that can be taken from the development of China’s economy over the last forty years. As noted, in 1981 almost 90% of the Chinese population was living in extreme poverty. In 2013 this had improved to less than 2%. In sheer numbers, this is equivalent to 800 million people and it has had a corresponding impact on the improvement to international statistics. In 1981, 45% of worldwide population was in extreme poverty, this has reduced to almost 10% in 2015.

BRI’s initial focus, on building infrastructure, aligns with goal number nine of the SDGs – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, and also supports the achievement of goal number eight – Decent Work and Economic Growth. However, over 70% of global emissions come from building and using infrastructure. For this development to be sustainable, it must utilise new technologies, techniques and standards. To support these aims, the Chinese government has changed the emissions requirements for automotive vehicles, and in Beijing these are now more stringent than in most Western countries.

Infrastructure such as power, water, health care and manufacturing built under the BRI program will hopefully incorporate China’s learnings around emissions reduction and efficiency measures that that have been developed over the last 40 years.

Given the sheer size of the BRI, the potential for this multi-faceted project to improve the lives of many it touches is enormous. And if the SDGs are to be achieved, the 17th goal – Partnerships for the Goals, is a necessity.

As the largest and most encompassing infrastructure project in recent history, and the most ambitious internationally agreed human goals, both BRI and the SDGs will need to work in partnership to achieve significant impacts by 2030.

Key industries that support our populations and global infrastructure – notably energy, mining and resources – will need to partner these goals as well in order to create lasting, meaningful and effective impacts to secure our shared future and prosperity.

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development

  1. No Poverty
  2. Zero Hunger
  3. Good Health and Well-Being
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  10. Reduced Inequalities
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  13. Climate Action
  14. Life Below Water
  15. Life on Land
  16. Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
  17. Partnerships for the Goals

Get in touch

Blayney Morgan

Partner, and Leader – Energy & Resources Group

¹ “The global decline of extreme poverty – was it only China?”, Our World in Data, 2017


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