Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks multicultural and multiethnic populations shaped by global migrations in his fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
How do nations control multicultural and multiethnic populations? We need to examine the concept of the nation and nationalism in relation to this question. Control is the word that must be thought through first. The word control implies that the nation-state, through heavy-handed measures, forces upon the migratory population a standard of behaviour to which they must conform. Control can be achieved through devious, circumlocutious tactics as well. A nation can deceive a migrant population to create docile subjects for governance. In the first is governance by repression; in the second, through ideology. Both of these cases rely on an unquestioned assumption. This is the separation of the self, the national population and the other, the migrant population. The boundary between the two is much more porous than they appear. There is no eternal national body with unchanging boundaries and neither is the migrant forever an excluded outsider.
What is the nation? The nation is much more than citizenship and bureaucratic inclusion. As scholar of nationalism Benedict Anderson suggests through the title of his landmark work, the nation is an “imagined community.” It is imagined because it is a constructed collective that relies on an imagined bond connecting members of the nation to other imagined members who they will never interact with. It is a community because the nation is “always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” as opposed to a hierarchical relationship. Nation-states are able to extend this community to migrants, and redefine the borders of national belonging. Construction does not imply invention and falsity. Even though nations and the feeling of national belonging are culturally constructed, it inspires community, belonging, and meaning for its members.
Canada is an example of one nation-state in which the definition of the national subject has changed. Canada is known for its brand of multiculturalism today. This was hardly the case in the mid-20th century, when Canada’s identity was predicated on Britishness and whiteness. White Canada policies excluded non-white individuals as national subjects. However, the boundary that once existed between white Canada and the once unassimilable migrant population has disappeared in the present day.
Other nation-states are going through their own transitions. The foreign population in South Korea was roughly 40,000 in 1990 and has grown to approximately 2.5 million today. Previously, one had to have “pure” Korean blood to claim belonging to the Korean nation, but the growing foreign population is challenging and redefining what it means to be Korean. The South Korean state is an active participant in these redefinitions through mechanisms like multiculturalist policies.
There are several potential incoming sources of migration in the coming years. These range from “pull” factors, such as labour market migrations, to “push” factors, like climate change related migrations. How might these migrants be welcomed into the national body? Thinking about the future is always limited by the ways of thinking in the present. There has been a revival of narrow nationalist discourses in the political landscape in recent years. In these discourses, the migrant is a figure who is completely exterior to the national community. The migrant threatens traditional, eternal ways of life with a strange dress, a strange tongue, and unfamiliar mannerisms.
However, the politics of the present need not be the politics of the future. Just as the national community is constructed, it can be reconstructed anew. The story of migration is in part a story of the reinterpretation of the national community. The migrants of today can be full members of the nation tomorrow.
Johanna Hoffman, a member of our Emerging Fellows program detects the effect of climate change on global institutions. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Climate change increases stress on governmental structures, intensifying vulnerabilities present within. The more taxing a situation turns, the more difficult collaboration and communication often become, creating a vicious cycle that brings cultural and political tensions to the fore. It’s the rare event when one country is effectively able to coordinate with another during times of crisis. Take the current coronavirus pandemic and its wide reaching economic impacts. The international economy is reeling as a result of the virus’ spread, yet there remains little consultation between governments, with plans for stimulus cropping up incrementally and separately across the globe.
As climate change progresses, the scale, scope and speed of difficulty will deepen around the world, testing the strength of international institutions to greater degrees. Indeed, climate issues are already showing both how difficult negotiation between countries is, and how insufficient our existing international institutions are to addressing issues of serious concern. When it comes to climate change, the authoritative limits of organizations like the United Nations or the World Bank are progressively highlighted and undermined. All international agreements made since the first COP (Conference of Parties) Climate Change Convention in 1995 have been non-binding, with participating countries left to follow its recommendations via voluntary interpretation. Many global leaders, such as the United States, have pulled out of agreements entirely.
Our international institutions, from the World Health Organization to the International Monetary Fund, retain only the power to recommend, pressure or sanction. They do not enforce. In times of strife, following recommendations that have less directly calculable benefit, such as recommendations from the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement that participating countries support sustainable development and enhance adaptive capacity, can become political liabilities. Making moves towards measures that require longer periods of time to show results is all to often a harder move to sell.
Again, the coronavirus crisis currently gripping the planet is a useful reference to assess where our international systems might be heading. While not directly caused by climate issues, coronavirus and its devastations are imprints of what is likely to come. As climate change brings warmer temperatures and glacial melt, researchers anticipate that new infectious diseases will arise, to which modern humans have little to no immunity. Coronavirus has shown that sequestering such diseases can be near impossible. In our modern world of global supply chains and constant travel, what affects one part of the globe affects us all.
Sadly, our existing international bodies are not up to the task of managing such outbreaks. In the early days of coronavirus’ reach, the World Health Organization sent out warnings, letting governments know that the virus required serious preventative measures. Some countries, like Singapore and South Korea, places where more recent outbreaks of SARS and MERS have left lasting impacts, took the recommendations to heart. Others, like the United States, Brazil and Italy, did not. The WHO has no authority to manage how international governments follow its recommendations, creating conditions where diseases and infections that might have been effectively regulated with cross governmental coordination go on rampant, causing widespread loss of life, economic fallout and social decay.
Researchers are certain that climate change will bring more and stranger viruses than we have experienced in living memory. With the conditions of scarcity, uncertainty and fear that come with such pandemics, many leaders may well work to strengthen their respective states and reinforce feelings of nationalism. Governments across the board could enact emergency restrictions and policies to navigate the mounting crises, restrictions that, when those crises abate, leaders may not readily relinquish. Such concentration of power often leads to diminished reliance on international governance and a weakened belief in the power of multilateral cooperation.
As the diseases, conflicts and extreme weather events that come with climate change increase, the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of current global institutions will continue to show. The amount and frequency of refugee movements will only spike, bringing more conflict and spurring greater demands on existing resources, challenging the ability of global institutions to manage and guide the flows. Only direct support, coordinated reimagining and international investment, can prevent the already present cracks in our institutions from breaking.
Carl Michael inspects the impact of technology on Belt and Road Initiative in his fifth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program.The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The term technology covers the development and utilization of technical capabilities in relation to people and the environment. Technologies are material and non-material or digital inventions that have enabled human beings to survive, thrive and advance. They ought not to be considered in isolation from the era or the societies in which they exist. For instance, some experts consider that were it not for the development of the chariot, China itself as a unified entity would not exist. Such is the impact of technology on society. Continuing on this note, if one considers the very concept of the state as a ‘technology’ in its own right, one can define a state as the sum of human endeavour in the production of economic, military, social or artistic outcomes. Extending this train of thought, one can consider the state or the BRI to be a ‘network’, and one which acts within a global network.
The evolution of the BRI must be considered in the context of political technologies such as states and intrastate activities. It should be acknowledged how these technologies interact with other cutting-edge technologies and the resulting evolution of governance. In this macro-context, national or civilizational interactions are part of a complex technological network. When insights from complexity theory and network theory are incorporated into one’s perspective, the evolution of the BRI and its vision can be viewed in a new light. This provides a viewpoint which could be useful when considering how technology impacts the intentions driving an initiative such as the BRI. The economic future of China is technology dependent and effective utilization and transfer of technology will be at the heart of the BRI. Further to this, as BRI members develop, there will be greater demand for advanced technologies, wherever they come from.
For China, technology and success are almost synonymous and the ‘Made in China 2025’ strategic plan is the blueprint for China’s intent for seizing leadership in advanced technology. It is a world leader in digital payment systems and the intent is to surge forward in ICT, artificial intelligence, robotics, high-speed railways, biotech and medical technology, pharmaceuticals, space technology, renewables, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, nuclear energy and military technology. To fuel this surge China needs access, one way or another, to commodities from developing countries or cutting-edge technology from developed countries. The BRI presents China with opportunities to use its accumulated capital to increase its ability to control and optimise global value chains on favourable terms for developing and exporting its technology.
The danger from the current global crisis has showcased China’s strategic biotech capabilities. Chinese leadership in other key technology sectors can be noted from its young, large and ambitious technology workforce, its recent accounting for a third of a space-launches, its pushing ahead with ambitious plans for cleaner and safer next-generation nuclear power, and its acknowledged strength in 5G telecom networks and digital platforms. With this in mind, we can see that China’s ‘Technological Tianxia’ will be one of fast, technologically driven economic and social change with a centrally managed approach, including the use of technology for military and power-projection. The speed of this change is considerable. China took just over a decade for over a billion people to double industrial output per person. In comparison, the UK took well over a century and the US took about half a century. The technology driven vision of the future will be a distinctive factor for an imagined community such as the BRI and this vision will be driven by Chinese technology prophets, entrepreneurs, influencers and venture capitalists.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program identifies players that could likely affect the world-power game in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
India, Iran, and Turkey are three regional powers being wooed as part of U.S., Russian, and Chinese geopolitical agendas. How they align their aspirations with the civilizational values of the U.S., Russia, and China may upset the balance of power. One of these or other stakeholders could influence a world-power pivot to Eurasia’s Heartland.
To advance their respective civilizational values, the U.S., Russia, and China have extended their rivalry through India, Turkey, and Iran. The U.S., an ally to Israel, firmly defends the values of Western European civilization. She seeks to cozy up with India in Asia and desires Turkey to support her interests in the Middle East. Russia is a self-described Eurasian civilization state. She’s friendly with Iran, pursues an alliance with India, and is improving relations with Turkey. China has been characterized as a civilization state due to her historical heritage, religious diversity, and distinct cultural identity. Despite border disputes with India, she aims to preserve their cultural and economic exchange, dating back to the Old Silk Road. She sweetens relations with Turkey through increased trade and wants Iran as a strategic partner. These regional powers could play critical roles in shifting the balance of world power.
An aspiring emergent global superpower determined to safeguard her borders, India has civil relations with the U.S., Russia, and China. Her foreign-policy agenda is aligned with a multipolar power balance. Supposedly, India is moving away from some Western values — liberalism, individualism, and secularism — that conflict with traditional Indian culture. Yet, she may promote U.S. and Japanese interests in Asia. India could counter China’s encroachment into Central Asia through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Still, for her security, India will “make nice” with China, including joining China’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Recently, India purchased Russia’s S-400 missile defense system against strong U.S. objections and sanctions. Her bilateral relationship with Russia across mutual interests likely will mean continued economic, political, security, and nuclear cooperation in the future.
Turkey is a wild card and complicates the rivalry between the U.S., Russia, and China with her own aspirations. A NATO member and Western ally against communism during the Cold War, she aspires to be a major regional power. Even so, she faces a Kurdish rebellion, Greek territorial disputes, and threatening Iranian power. Potentially, Turkey may stabilize the Middle East and contain Russia’s expanding influence. Still, she defied U.S. expectations and joined Russia in backing rebels in the Syrian War. Having secured Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, she is abandoning Western liberal democracy and embracing authoritarian rule. Plans to connect Turkey’s Middle Corridor transportation network with the BRI supports China’s trade ambitions in Eurasia. But how they address a bilateral trade deficit that favors China could better or sour their relationship.
Supported by Russia and China, Iran seemingly has hegemonic aspirations of being the central regional power in the Middle East and Central Asia. However, her increased involvement in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria has incited Israel’s military opposition. She rejects westernization and strategizes to limit U.S. influence in Central Asia. Trade with Russia is Iran’s saving grace, given the destabilizing impacts of U.S. economic sanctions to deter her from amassing nuclear weapons. Yet, despite their reciprocal friendliness, Russia refused Iran’s request for a S-400 missile defense system. While Iran sought but was denied full membership in the SCO, it’s likely she will stay connected to China through economic and cultural exchanges along the BRI. Their bilateral relationship could solidify Iran as China’s strategic partner in the area.
India, Turkey, and Iran add to the complex rivalry between the U.S., Russia, and China. Will these regional powers or other stakeholders influence a world-power pivot to the Eurasia’s Heartland? Understanding the forces that could drive or block change is key to reducing uncertainty.
Travis Kupp, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the possibility of a unified Asia through trade ties in his fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Globalization is not on the decline, but it is evolving. Developments over the last two decades—including a financial crisis and a pandemic—have accelerated the change in economic relationships between and within all regions of the world. Trade with neighbors, in particular, have come into the spotlight as nations narrow their focus. Asia is no exception. Over the coming years, China and India will be playing an economic game with the rest of the continent that could lead to Asian unity or heightened distrust and paranoia. Deep trade integration could bring a form of economic unity to Asia that would totally eclipse Western markets.
The rise of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a signal of what could be realized across the continent. The regional organization has come to develop relationships with other Asian and Pacific nations, including China and later India. As the geographic scope of partnership has increased, so has the complexity of pursuing common interests in light of imbalanced power. India’s recent decision to not participate in ASEAN’s proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is indicative of these limits. India is an attractive market for exports but has concerns that the terms of RCEP could result in a flood of imports, especially from China, harming its domestic industry and agriculture. While India’s economy continues to experience strong growth relative to the rest of the world, it is not yet capable of competing directly with its advanced Eastern neighbor in the trade arena.
In one possible future, India’s growth outpaces China and it makes the necessary structural changes and infrastructure investments to dramatically increase its exports. These developments occur while the encircling Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) struggles through a decelerated Chinese economy and underwhelming returns on its massive foreign investments. India takes advantage of these trends to strengthen its trade relationships in both Southeast and Central Asia, creating a new balance of geo-economic power in the region. China reluctantly recognizes this new state of the world, scales back its assertiveness to avoid military conflict, and becomes a more amenable partner in a broader trade union across the continent.
In another future, India’s infrastructure remains inadequate to take advantage of its demographic and economic growth lead. The BRI successfully draws Central Asian nations closer into China’s orbit of influence, heightening tensions with interested neighbors Russia and India. China uses RCEP as a lever to increase pressure on Japan, Vietnam, and others with respect to its territorial disputes. Nations across Asia face a difficult choice whether to cave to Chinese pressure or face the economic consequences of their trade sanctions. The rest of world seeks to better balance its flow of trade with China while taking a careful approach to relationships in the rest of Asia, mostly seeking less risky deals closer to home. What unity exists in this future Asia is predicated on whether you are under Chinese economic influence or not.
Trade integration promotes peace, but it does not erase borders nor national interests. While disputes about exactly where some Asian nations begin and end may not be settled anytime soon, successful strengthening of trade agreements could lead to unprecedented regional integration and stability. While unanticipated events in the coming decades could accelerate the balance of power in favor of China or India, what is certain is that trade relationships with these two nations will be a determining factor for Asia’s future. The way these regional economic alliances develop will either create a newfound unity or an uneasiness felt around the globe.
Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the intra-continental cooperation in Africa through the lens of security in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Foundational to intra-continental cooperation lies the abilities of leaders. Now is the time for African leaders to create a structure that perpetuates cooperation with paradigm shifting impact. The African Union (AU) is an African institution with the ability to increase security guarantees. In 2002 the AU, consisting of 55 member states, formed in an evolutionary nature from the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Where the OAU focused on ridding Africa of decolonization and apartheid, the AU’s focus is on cooperation and African driven growth.
In 2013, the organization launched a 50-year plan called Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, noting a critical aspiration to be ‘a peaceful and secure Africa.’ Flagship projects in the plan include a high-speed train network, a commodities strategy, African continental free trade, free movement of people, silencing of guns, e-network, virtual university, cybersecurity, and an African museum authority to preserve cultural heritage. The AU’s work is critical in achieving intra-continental cooperation and associated security guarantees. But, how much of this work is achievable within the next three decades? What is a realistic expectation of progress to be made by 2050?
Security benefits accompany intra-continental cooperation. Security benefits may appear at several different levels within African society by 2050, including both people and businesses. With greater cooperation the day-in-the-life of an African may include burden-less travel in-between major African cities (think of vacation opportunities or family growth), readily available goods manufactured from other African regions in local stores, and the regular ability to consume and cook with foods and spices grown in other African regions. African businesses experience possible benefits of higher buying power in a cooperative market environment, an increased customer base due to a broader market, and opportunities to scale business operations throughout areas in Africa.
Intra-continental cooperation emphasizes peacebuilding efforts and conflict prevention strategies.
Consider the potential conflicts that cooperation may reframe by 2050 to include religious confrontation, tribal disputes, ethnic conflicts, and refugee displacement. Though Africa is a central contributor within the non-integrated gap, the Sahel is a primary source of African conflict. The Sahel, a belt spanning across the northern region of Africa, is known for its instability and violence. How might intra-continental cooperation defuse the Sahel’s reputation for violence come 2050? Will peacebuilding and conflict prevention strategies overturn the present corruption and kleptocracy that exists by 2050? Will the AU hold to their Agenda 2063 plan and create an unwavering African structure?
The desire for peace, security and stability is certainly not new. Yet, over the decades, leaders have not been able to achieve cooperation among the Africa nations. Why is this? Why has peace and security not existed? As a matter of comparison, why does the AU not hold the same level of cooperation as the European Union (EU)? Why are African nations not already cooperating with each other? When thinking towards 2050, modern leaders must ask themselves what will be different? What is be different today, tomorrow, and over the next three decades so that a peaceful and secure Africa, as the AU suggests, exists in 2050?
Cooperation reshapes the types of conflicts and security concerns that arise in 2050. With peacebuilding and conflict prevention strategies a default way of thinking within society, resources are relieved and available to combat other potential threats. Ultimately, intra-continental cooperation opens doors. Might these doors lead to non-European neo-colonialism? What about local entrepreneurship? The security guarantees that accompany intra-cooperation created through African structures drastically impact the continent’s ability to unlock the potential of Africa by 2050.
Tyler Mongan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects factors that may affect the Arctic region through current geopolitical system in his fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The Arctic is currently one of the most stable geopolitical regions in the world, supporting both bilateral agreements and multinational cooperation. As the Great Game moves to the high north, there will be an emerging background of strategic competition. In its current form, the Arctic Council (AC) has limited ability to ensure that cooperation and coordination are sustained. However, expansion or contraction of the AC’s role could have a destabilizing effect on the region and lead to the displacement of the current geopolitical system.
A stronger AC could become an authority for mitigating geopolitical competition, but this would require Arctic Nations to give up some of their unilateral and even bilateral pursuits, while also being constrained by legal agreements. The strategic and economic opportunities in the Arctic are far too significant for US and Russia to support the development of a superior legal authority. Oversight of military operations is a strict no-go for the US and could lead to the US distancing itself from the AC. This would grant Russia and China more political power to pursue their interests in the region.
If a stronger AC uses its power to manage resource extraction or sea routes, it would see push back from Russia, who has already invested heavily in the region as part of their national strategy. Further, because Russia is a political outlier, the Allied nations could use the AC as a means to constrain Russian efforts. This might force Russia to take a more enclosed approach in the Arctic.
In contrast, decreasing the AC’s role could also undermine the geopolitical stability in the region. Funding for the AC is already sparse, which severely constrains its ability operate at full capacity. If the role of the AC is reduced further, then it would become irrelevant. Devoid of a collaborative forum, the Arctic Nations could split into two camps: the US, Canada, and Western Europe on one side, and Russia and China on the other. An open Arctic would begin to enclose, starting a slippery slope to a Polar Cold War.
Even if the AC's current role is sustained, other factors could lead to the displacement of the current system. As bilateral agreements between Russia and China continue to grow, or even expand into military cooperation, western nations could seek economic, political, and military pressures that limit Russia-China activities. China’s Polar Silk Road initiatives will lead to the expansion of bilateral agreements with European nations, while also increasing tension with the US.
Russian military operations will create more tension in the region, but the US and Western Europe will be limited in their ability to respond. Although the US has the most powerful military in the world, its ability to operate in the region is limited because it has not invested in Arctic ports or polar-fit military bases and vessels, which take years to develop. NATO’s interest in the region could also increase, alienating Russia and China while hastening the militarization and destabilization of the region.
As the great game moves to the Arctic competition in the region will heat up. Arctic nations will have to choose between an Arctic that is open for the common good, as it is now, or an Arctic that is enclosed and focused on national interests. Maintaining the Arctic as a common good could lead to the call for a stronger governing body in the Arctic region, especially by smaller Arctic Nations and observer Nations. However, Russia’s continued petitioning to the UN to increase its territorial claim is a signal that a more enclosed Arctic will exist in the future.
Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the effect of migration on international relations in his fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
International migration has the potential to affect international relationships almost by definition. When the citizen of one state travels into the borders of another, they are foreigners and outside the safety of the home country. International embassies and consulates developed to protect citizens who are abroad, and infringements to the rights of a citizen of one state by the host state can lead to a souring of relations. This has happened recently with the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. The Chinese government arrested two Canadian citizens and put sanctions on Canadian canola exports in retaliation. However, it is important to note, as is stressed previously, that migration rarely exists without an institutional context. Migration may affect international relationships, but this presupposes an existing agreement that facilitates the movement of people between two or more states.
The influence of individual migrants on international relationships between states is often negligible in comparison to the actions taken on the state level. Migrants present an opportunity – nation-states can use migrants within their borders to advance their interests. Migrants are instrumentalized for economic gain, as in the case of South Korea. The migrant population in South Korea has grown from roughly 40,000 in the early 1990s to about 2 million today through various labour movement programs and marriage migration programs. These migrants have created of a class of multi-lingual and culturally fluid “Kosians” (a portmanteau of Korean and Asian) and naturalized non-ethnic Koreans. The Korean state has used these migrants to bridge economic relationships between Korea and other states.
Instrumentalization happens in other ways as well. Migrants can be used as pawns for international power plays, demonstrated by the E.U.-Turkey deal in 2016. The deal presented a way to put a stop to flows of migration for European states under duress. Turkey agreed to control the refugees going from Turkey to the Greek Islands. In response, the European Union pledged an initial €3 billion to Turkey. Additionally, there was a political component that reconfigured international relationships, such as visa-free travel into E.U. states for citizens of Turkey and new talks for Turkey’s membership into the European Union.
Top-down state policy can instrumentalize migrants to change international relationships, but contemporary events have shown that migrants change international relationships from the bottom-up as well. The response to migrations have led to nationalist movements across the European continent and in the United States by political movements largely categorized as the New Right or the Alt Right. These political movements have gained traction, partially motivated by an anxiety of the international migrant. Contemporary political events like Brexit and the election of President Trump, who campaigned against international free trade deals like NAFTA, are signals of an emerging and contentious vision of the world order. This new vision of the world challenges the normative liberal world order, the latter with its large trade blocs like the European Union that facilitate free movement of capital and labour.
Migrants and migration are able to influence international relationships between state actors, both from the top-down and from the bottom-up. States can actively utilize migrants to advance their interests; however, they are at the same time beholden to their citizens. Migration has proven to be a contentious issue in recent times, and recent political movements have reconfigured international relationships from the bottom up.
Johanna Hoffman, a member of our Emerging Fellows program detects technologies that could be likely helpful to climate change challenge. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Some people call them a shot in the dark. Others insist they’re escapist fantasy. For others, they’re the saviors we can’t ignore. Regardless of what words you use, negative emissions technologies demand our attention. An emerging area of research and development, they continue to dangle real potential to change the climate adaptation game.
In case you’ve yet to hear of them, here’s a brief definition. Also known as ‘carbon dioxide removal systems,’ negative emissions technologies are tools to extract CO2, one of the biggest contributors to global warming, from the atmosphere.
Their allure has multiple dimensions. Many acknowledge that as we move towards a net-zero or even net-negative world, halting all carbon emissions both immediately and in the long term is a daunting task. The primary avenues for achieving those goals lie in widespread adoption of more renewable energy and green technology systems. Due to widespread political, economic and cultural issues, however, many carbon drawdown plans recommend continuing certain sources of carbon use for certain periods of time, in the hopes of enabling smoother transitions. That carbon emitted now could be extracted from the atmosphere later presents a comforting prospect, that we could live in a world where the process of addressing climate change could be achieved through less disruptive means.
While they sound too good to be true, negative emissions technologies are no fantasy. They currently exist. From bioenergy generation to direct air capture to biochar, these tools have been proven to extract atmosphere CO2. At present, however, the processes are very energy intensive, making the tools prohibitively expensive as blanket go-to strategies for effective sequestration at actionable scales.
New research could change that. For example, Wil Srubar, and Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has recently developed techniques to replace cement in concrete with cyanobacteria. As construction is one of the most heavily polluting industries, and cement in particular emits huge amounts of of CO2 every year, this innovation presents opportunities for real positive change. Because cyanobacteria is a common class of microbe that captures energy through photosynthesis, this new type of concrete passively absorbs carbon from its surroundings. If the technology is scaled - and it is receiving considerable attention from large scale funders already - it could create buildings and cities capable of becoming not just carbon neutral but carbon negative. Imagine a city where all substrates and surfaces function like a forest, with carbon sinks cropping up wherever human development exists.
Despite its many potential benefits, the technology would be no silver bullet. Indeed, it could feasibly enact even more complex and dangerous repercussions. Introducing living organisms into uncontrolled urban environments stands the very real chance of creating lethal externalities, from the emergence of previously unseen diseases to new vulnerabilities in essential support systems. Were bio-hacked cyanobacteria to become the building blocks of our cities, it stands to reason that new, uncontrollable mutations might well cause unanticipated and widespread havoc, both domestically and across the globe.
Yet perhaps the most compelling risk that negative emissions present is one of human complacency. If we find ways to extract carbon from our atmosphere, what’s to prevent us from continuing to produce more carbon, methane and other problematic substances, failing to curb the practices that result in greater climatic uncertainty in the first place?
To provide more help than harm, negative emissions must be implemented in conjunction with more cohesive energy efficient and net carbon neutral efforts across our borders. Technology alone is not enough to save us. With restraint, international coordination and thoughtful implementation, we stand a far better chance.
Carl Michael reviews the institutional base ofBelt and Road Initiative in his fourth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program.The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The primary institutional base underpinning the BRI is provided by the three interlocking branches of political power in China. The Communist Party of China (CPC), the State Council and the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). The CPC continues the long tradition of a unified Confucian ruling entity, which seeks to represent the interests of the whole of society, in comparison with a Western-style political party approach. Chinese governments are expected to cope with the challenges posed by a huge population and vast territory, ostensibly shaping a political culture characterized by valuing a longer-term vision, a more holistic perception of politics which places high value on the country’s overall stability and prosperity. This single-party approach, embodied by the CPC, is often contrasted with the impact of change of central government every few years in multi-party democratic systems as well as the national chaos following China’s 1911 revolution which sought a Western political model. The CPC exercises oversight of the BRI through the Central Foreign Affairs Commission.
The State Council on the other hand is the chief administrative authority in China and it exercises authority over the BRI through cabinet-level bodies such as Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce which is responsible for foreign trade policy and agreements and foreign direct investment. These bodies and their predecessors were instrumental in China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation.
Chief among the financial institutes which underpin BRI activities is the government-owned China Development Bank (CDB). It is one of the most powerful banks in the world and has been crucial in transforming China’s economy and competitiveness. Even though other national development banks have financed political projects and favoured industries that private investors would eschew; never has such an institution existed with so much capital and financial capability with control delivered into the hands of one body, the CPC. The rise of Chinese capital availability overseas is an ever-increasing trend facilitated by the CDB which specializes in financing infrastructure, energy and transportation. In this it is complimented by the Exim Bank of China which specializes in financing trade, investment and economic cooperation; and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, whose starting capital and credit ratings have made it a rival to the World Bank, ADB and the IMF. In addition to these banks, the government-owned Silk Road Fund fosters increased investment in countries participating in the BRI.
Any understanding of the institutional base of the BRI would be incomplete without considering the role of the Chinese PLA, which is the largest military force in the world. The recent growth of the PLA’s global power projection capabilities and strategic nuclear missile capabilities has been noteworthy. Local conditions in many BRI areas are highly unstable and scenarios where China may require the PLA to protect its interests beyond its borders are not unrealistic. As China’s growth has moved it along the path to becoming a true maritime power, so also has the PLA navy expanded its global reach with the acquisition of aircraft carriers, carrier-killer missiles and overseas bases. The perception of the PLA as being the armed wing of the CPC means the PLA’s deployment abroad is extremely sensitive in nature.
There is concern regarding the rise of a global player with an institutional base such as China’s. The justifiable unease in many parts of the world arises from the links between its national mission, power projection capabilities and political system. If this unease is not alleviated, the BRI could be perceived as a neo-colonial form of tributary diplomacy even as China works to reinstate its rightful civilisational place in the world order.