Environmental Governance Perspective on the China Africa Relationship

There has been a high degree of dominance by various Chinese actors in many sectors of African economies lately, and it has been observed that China’s relationship with Africa is multidimensional. Some Chinese experts have pointed out that many African governments seek Chinese assistance through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to bridge the continent’s infrastructure gap, while China in turn seeks access to a number of key strategic resources, including fossil fuels, minerals, and land. In addition to being rich in natural resources, African countries attract Chinese interest because of relatively cheap labor, poor governance, and lax environmental standards. According to a 2021 report from the Shanghai University of International Business and Economics, China has since 2000 invested a total of $47 billion throughout Africa (in 52 out of 54 countries), with new investments adding up to $2.96 billion in 2020 (an increase of over $200 million from the previous year). The vast majority of Chinese investments, 87 per cent, have gone into four areas: energy, transportation, metals, and real estate.

When implementing overseas investment and cooperation construction projects, enterprises shall abide by the laws, regulations, and policy standards of the host country (region) on the ecological environment and apply for necessary ecological environmental protection permits as required.

Article 3 of China’s Guidelines of Ecological Environment Protection for Overseas Investment and Cooperation Construction Projects states that “when implementing overseas investment and cooperation construction projects, enterprises shall abide by the laws, regulations, and policy standards of the host country (region) on the ecological environment and apply for necessary ecological environmental protection permits as required.” If the host country (region) lacks relevant standards or has lower standard requirements, it shall encourage the adoption of common international rules or stricter Chinese standards on the basis of an ecological environmental protection permit. “This demonstrates the need for a Chinese company operating overseas to adhere to the laws of the overseas’ countries.” What we see in Africa today is not only the violation of local laws but also Chinese rules. There are serious concerns from host communities in Africa that some Chinese investment initiatives are worsening land grabs, human rights abuses, indebtedness, and environmental and health impacts. These concerns have over the years called for a popular campaign against the activities of China in Africa.

There are serious concerns from host communities in Africa that some Chinese investment initiatives are worsening land grabs, human rights abuses, indebtedness, and environmental and health impacts.

On September 27, 2021, the Africa Climate Justice Group (ACJG) organized a webinar that drew in activist voices and perspectives from across Africa’s perspectives on Chinese investments in their countries. This webinar raised a lot of critical questions, which agreed would be addressed in a second session. You can access the summary report here.

An internal technical dialogue session on China’s role in Africa was later organized on March 9, 2022, which focused on expert perspectives on a range of issues including new environmental guidelines, best practices, seeking recourse for harm; the evolution of Chinese lending practices and about specific BRI plans for African countries and their environmental regulations; Chinese approaches to debt and how the environment plays into that, China-Africa cooperation on climate change, and specific investments into renewable energy projects; the financing of these projects. You can access the summary report here.

As Earth’s stewards, it’s high time to remain steadfast and vigilant in understanding relationships that are not sustainable for the health of our people.

This last session provoked a range of issues which will be interesting to follow up on in the coming months with the ongoing East Africa Crude Pipeline which is the longest in the world and to destroy more than half the East Africa biodiversity. As Earth’s stewards, it’s high time to remain steadfast and vigilant in understanding relationships that are not sustainable for the health of our people. We continue to call out greedy investments by few who are after making profits at the expense of the health of our people and planet. We are grateful to the African Climate Justice for rolling their sleeves to work for nature and our people. God bless Africa and those who are ready to invest in green technology and infrastructure.

By Antony Blaize – Environment and Climate Change Officer

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