How Many Wind Turbines and Solar Panels Does China’s Belt & Road Initiative Need?

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Op/Ed By Andre Wheeler

Tracking the effect of global warming on Chinese and Global Shipping is not an exact science

The recent IPCC report warning of a catastrophic climate change caused by mankind essentially predicts a global warming average of 1.5 °C. It has lead to headlines by both global media and several highly regarded experts as giving humanity just 12 years to correct behaviour leading to warming or the world will enter an extinction event likely to claim humans in addition to thousands of other species.

In addition to the debates around the imminent demise of China’s signature strategy of the Belt & Road Initiative, there were claims by within many in the international maritime and logistics sector that “climate change / global warming” will alter the shape of the BRI, based on claims ranging from melting permafrost to slow steam times as ships slow down to decrease their CO2 footprint. There has been much discussion about the cost of compliance with the IPCC report and global emissions regulations coming into effect in 2020. What these discussions have demonstrated is that a ‘group think’ mentality that has taken over reasoned debate as concerns the changing geo-political environment. Another way of stating this is to say that emotions are driving the discussion rather the substance of the claims.

An example of this are claims by numerous global warming academics that an increase in cyclone activity impacts on ports such as Shanghai. These statements come despite the IPCC actually acknowledging that not only have we seen a decline in cyclone activity, but there has also been a corresponding decline in intensity.

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There also needs a distinction to be made between climate change claims and pollution control measures. Pollution is a man-made problem that affects the health of millions of people. Yet significant reductions in pollution levels can be achieved without harming commercial and economic growth. China’s example of building base load electrical power through new generation coal power stations that reduce pollutant emissions by up to 60%. One needs only look at the makeup of the atmosphere to see that C02 constitutes only 0.039% of the mix.

My argument accepts that climate does change, but suggests that there are complex causes for this change and that this has been happening for centuries. No amount of wind or solar energy farms will change the impact of climate, and the IPCC is driving an increase in the cost of living in suggesting that it will. This is particularly worrying as the World Bank poverty measures, show that 2018 was the tipping point where more than 50% of the global population now has a middle class or better quality of life and extreme poverty has dropped to 8.6% of the world population. This escape from poverty has been achieved through commercial development, also one of the main drivers behind the Belt & Road Initiative.

Taking a closer look at the IPCC report we can see the admission that previous forecasts have been inaccurate. Examples include the 1990 extreme planet heating trajectory with current global warming at less than half of what was predicted as well as the 2000 prediction that Britain would never see snow again. An audit conducted by John McLean, on the temperature data set only, found 70 data points to be wrong in the IPCC report. So why should we believe current forecasts? It seems absurd that we are allowing inexact claims, change the fundamentals of global trade that will inevitably have a knock on effect on logistics and supply chain. The real risk is that the global economy returns to high poverty levels as people cannot afford these cost of living increases associated with climate change interventions that will have a negligible effect on climate.

Claims of the manmade effects on climate comes from the publication by John Cook in 2013, and the incorrectly reported “97% of all scientists agree” statement. In fact the paper does not actually identify what the scientists were agreeing to. Whilst they may have agreed to a general statement that the climate is changing, they did point out that there were many factors in play. It is notable that the minority believed that man played a significant and / or major role in climate, with the majority claiming there was no causal link between man and climate change.  Dr. Robert Spencer a research scientist at Earth Systems as well a previous stint with NASA, argues that very few studies have shown that climate change is widely due to human activity with no proof of causality having been established. In a sense, it reflects the confusion over climate change with that of reducing air pollution levels.

It should be noted that the study of climate change has so many specialities and sub-disciplines there would be few, if any, scientists with a knowledge base sufficiently holistic enough to make an informed judgement. The history of science and discovery is littered with “false” horizons. For example, for years Peptic Ulcers were believed to be caused by diet, only to be discovered in 2005 that these ulcers were caused by bacteria. How long did the belief that the world was flat prevent voyages of discovery?

Current research shows that 50% of global warming is due to the El Nino effect – a natural and complex weather pattern resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.  Then we have the Asia “pacific ring of fire” that has active volcanoes and earthquakes that have a profound effect on climate. For example, the volcanic eruption along the Laki volcanic Fissure in Iceland that took place over an 8 month period between June 1783 and February 1784. The fissure spewed out 120 million tons of sulphur dioxide, dropping global temperatures and changing monsoonal rain patterns. It is claimed that this eruption created a mini ice age and the globe took a decade to rebalance. What about the creation of new islands as a result of volcanic activity creating new ocean currents? Using this type of data mix and observations has led many, like the University of North Carolina to argue that science has yet not been able to determine whether manmade climate change or natural cycles are to blame.

So what has this to do with China’s Belt & Road Initiative? In simple terms, the Emissions Control Areas through Marpol regulations coming into effect will do more to reduce pollution levels than affect climate, and will impact significantly on ocean steam times and cost. This measure plays into the hands of China’s strategy to move more cargo / freight from sea to the lower emitting rail network – nothing changes in terms of the Belt & Road Initiative plan as a result, while illustrating how well thought out it is.  Current plans by China call for growing rail freight by 1.1 billion tonnes, ocean going freight by 550 million tonnes and to reduce road transport as a result by 400 million tonnes by 2020, as facilitated by the Belt & Road Initiative. In other words, China’s Belt & Road global transport plans are following proven science.

Meanwhile, claims that the melting arctic ice cap is affecting the Maritime Silk Road routes also distorts reality. The Arctic passage has always had times of the year that were navigable and to suggest permanency of an open artic sea route is disingenuous. Evidence shows that in 2017, Arctic ice was at it 5th highest level in terms of size and density. The Danish Polar Portal shows that between 2011 and 2012 the ice was at its lowest level – in turn suggesting the ice cap is now growing. Scientists onboard the Akademik Ioffe research vessel in August 2018 setting out to prove a massive melting of the Arctic Sea ice instead learnt a tough lesson when the ship got trapped by the very same ice they suggested wasn’t there. Despite initially claiming that they had run aground, the Canadian authorities confirmed that they had issued warning of heavier ice concentrations in the area at that time and the vessel got trapped.

Furthermore, recent reports from NASA’a Goddards Flight Centre shows that Artic ice  is growing in size, suggesting that there is a natural mechanism in play that adjusts the ice pack density between summer and winter ice formation. This has already changed the “predictions” that the Artic will be ice free from within the next 12 years to that of 2100. It was not that long ago that the Artic was predicted to be ice free by 2013 – this being one of many failed predictions based on poor science and lack of an understanding of the complexity of climate change drivers.

In conclusion, no matter how many wind or solar farms that are built, whilst improving air quality and reducing pollution, they will not affect the climate so as to alter the way the Belt & Road Initiative develops. Natural weather events will continue to happen and users of the infrastructure will have to maintain the traditional practice of contingency and emergency planning.

Andre Wheeler is a director of Wheeler Management Consulting and specializes in logistics related to the development of China’s Belt & Road Initiative. His recent book, “China’s Belt & Road Initiative: The Challenge For The Middle Kingdom Through A New Logistics Paradigm” can be found on Amazon. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Publisher.


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