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Governance & Access

A social entrepreneur invests the little working capital she has to bring solar electricity to a community that –like 1.2 billion people worldwide– lacks access to electricity. The community used to use dirty, expensive and choking kerosene for light to cook by and for children to learn by. The entrepreneur knows she can recoup her costs, because people are willing to pay for reliable, high-quality, clean energy – and it will be even less than what they used to pay for kerosene. Sounds like a good news story, right?

Three months later, the government utility extends the electrical grid to this same community, despite official plans showing it would take at least another four years. While this could be good news for the community, one unintended consequence is that this undermines the entrepreneur’s investment, wiping out their working capital, and deterring investors from supporting decentralized clean energy projects in other communities that lack access to electricity.

Few countries are unaffected by China’s overseas investments. The country’s outward foreign direct investments (OFDI) have grownfrom $29 billion in 2002 to more than $424 billion in 2011. While these investments can bring economic opportunities to recipient countries, they also have the potential to create negative economic, social, and environmental impacts and spur tension with local communities.

To address these risks, China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) and Ministry of Environment (MEP)—with support from several think tanks—recently issued Guidelines on Environmental Protection and Cooperation. These Guidelines are the first-ever to establish criteria for Chinese companies’ behaviors when doing business overseas—including their environmental impact. But what exactly do the Guidelines cover, and how effective will they be? Here, we’ll answer these questions and more.

While reactions to President Obama’s newly announced climate plan have focused on domestic action, the plan actually has potentially significant repercussions for the rest of the world. These repercussions will come in part through his commitment to limit U.S. investments in new coal-fired power plants overseas. If fully implemented, the plan will help ensure that the U.S. government channels its international investments away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy. The move sends a powerful signal—and hopefully, will inspire similar action by other global lenders.

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