The belt and road initiative – the role for coal, ICSC/315

Image: Shutterstock


The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, is a worldwide infrastructure building initiative that aims to connect China and its allies with energy, transport, communications, and cultural links. Nearly half of BRI investment to date has gone to the energy sector, including both fossil fuel and renewable projects. Coal projects have secured a significant amount of BRI funding. Considering divestment decisions from international financial institutions and many large private banks, China’s willingness to support coal mines and power plants is increasingly important. However, the BRI has been criticised by some as promoting a highly polluting model of growth. This investigation of the structure and implementation of the BRI, includes an in-depth review of the Chinese approach to concessional lending, the impact of the increasingly strict global environmental targets, and the effects of Covid-19. Chinese financing is key for BRI projects, but loans often lack transparency and use risk management mechanisms, such as collateral, that are not usually used by western or multinational financial institutions. Furthermore, increasing concern about climate change has led both China and some BRI partner countries to re-evaluate their energy systems. The Covid 19 crisis has accelerated this trend, as lower than expected power demand has reduced the pressure to rapidly increase electricity supply. Chinese investments in the coal sector are reviewed on a country-by-country basis to put these trends in context. Case studies include Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. The case studies illustrate how power sector investments are driven by a variety of factors, including but not limited to, cost, demand forecasts, system stability requirements, domestic fuel availability, political incentives, and environmental concerns. China is still willing to finance large coal projects, but the local political, economic, and social situation of the host country determines their success.


The Belt and Road Initiative - the role for coal

Report Author(s)

Stephanie Metzger

Report Number




Publication date

1 October 2021