"Measuring Rising Heat and Flood Risk Along the Belt-and- Road Initiative" - by CWP alum Maria Adele Carrai

May 31, 2024

China's global infrastructure financing flagship, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) encompasses countries hosting over 60% of the global population and one-third of worldwide GDP. It is based mainly on long-term loans that will mature decades into the future, and timely repayments are only possible if they remain commercially viable. But despite its vast global scope, little is known about the climate risks that could imperil the operations of BRI projects over the next few decades, and, consequently, threaten their long-term sustainability. We narrow this gap by estimating the impacts of future climate change on 2 BRI projects across 70 countries and 9 sectors on two 17 dimensions. First, the effects of increased heat stress on human physical work capacity are calculated using the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) and an assessment of the workload for each selected BRI project. Second, the potential structural damages from more frequent flooding incidents, measuring the occurrence probability with flood return period (RP), where a shorter RP signals heightened risk. Both have direct impacts on human productivity and infrastructural integrity, which are essential to maintaining the operational viability and financial stability of BRI projects. We compared projected changes on both measures for the mid- and late-twentieth centuries (2041–2060 and 2081-2100) to the historical baseline (1981–2010). We found that BRI projects face escalating vulnerability to climatic risks on both counts. The results underscore a broad variance across different future carbon emission scenarios measured under the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (including SSP1-2.6, SSP2-4.5, SSP3-7.0, and SSP5-8.5). BRI's aggregated climatic risks are substantially elevated under a high carbon emission scenario compared to a low emission scenario. By the late twentieth century, labor workability could experience a threefold increase in reduction for SSP3-7.0 (31%), compared to SSP1-2.6 (10%).  Under an intermediate-emission scenario (SSP2-4.5), ten-year floods could occur every five years, significantly hampering the utilization and economic return generation potential of infrastructure projects. In addition, regional geography contributes to risk heterogeneity, with 100- year floods occurring every 15 years in South Asia and every 24 years in Sub-Saharan Africa. Such climate risk implications, potentially overlooked by development financiers, represent significant risks to the sustenance of the BRI, estimated to be worth $1 trillion.

Jiayong Liang  NYU Shanghai Maria Adele Carrai  NYU Shanghai Ammar A. Malik  AidData at William & Mary Xi Gao  NYU Shanghai Xuyan Gao  NYU Shanghai Lihan Feng  NYU Shanghai Kangning Huang  NYU Shanghai - https://assets.researchsquare.com/files/rs-4246464/v1_covered_a7eff913-3301-4ff6-a38d-abc0ecd94d6e.pdf?c=1713444054

Maria Adele Carrai is an Assistant Professor of Global China Studies at NYU Shanghai. Her research explores the history of international law in East Asia and investigates how China’s rise as a global power shapes norms and redefines the international distribution of power. She co-leads the Research Initiative 'Mapping Global China,' and is the author of Sovereignty in China. A Geneology of a Concept since 1840 (CUP 2019) and co-editor of The China Questions 2 - Critical Insights into US-China Relations (HUP 2022). Before joining NYU Shanghai, she was a recipient of a three-year Marie-Curie fellowship at KU Leuven. She was also a Fellow at the Italian Academy of Columbia University, Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program, Max Weber Program of the European University Institute of Florence, and New York University Law School.

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Maria Adele Carrai