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Past Events

June 19, 2019 | 12:00 PM

China’s Belt and Road, Altering the Global Ecosystem

Duke in DC 
1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW 
Suite 500 
Washington, District of Columbia 20004

Boat image

China wants to build the world. From roads and bridges to ports, stadiums and 5G networks, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) sets a groundwork for massive infrastructure expansion across Eurasia, Africa, the poles, and Latin America. Often seen through the prism of great power rivalry, the BRI will fundamentally alter the world’s ecosystems in ways not yet understood. Although the world’s great infrastructure needs are great, China’s projects will change how humans and the natural world interact, from mineral extraction and energy production to riparian flows and animal migration. How will China’s BRI change the world’s biosphere and what specific concerns can policymakers in Washington, D.C. address?

Join Duke in DC for a Public Policy Roundtable on the environmental effects of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Duke’s Public Policy Roundtables offer an open forum for conversation on the art of the possible in American policymaking.

Please register here.


Jackson Ewing Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions | Duke University

Marcus D. King, Ph.D.
John O. Rankin Associate Professor of International Affairs; Director, Elliott School Master's of Arts in International Affairs Program | The George Washington University

Joanna Lewis Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service | Georgetown University

Elizabeth Losos, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow (non-resident), Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions | Duke University

April 17, 2019 | 12:00 PM

How Can We Construct a Sustainable Future?

with Ariel BenYishay (College of William and Mary)
and Rebecca Ray (Boston University)

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Trillions of dollars in new infrastructure investments—catalyzed by China's Belt and Road Initiative—planned to address the developing world's infrastructure gap. But if not carefully planned, large-scale infrastructure projects can also threaten sensitive ecosystems, vulnerable populations, and the global climate. What can we learn from past infrastructure investments so as not to repeat past mistakes? A panel discussion will explore what data on past investments can reveal and how they can help direct future investments in sustainable infrastructure. The two speakers will be followed by a group discussion of how to incorporate environmental and social considerations into infrastructure planning and potential research collaborations.

This event is presented by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Riding the Belt & Road D-SIGN Network. Lunch will be provided. 



April 1, 2019 | 12:00 PM

From Space to the Polar Regions: New Frontiers in Studying China's Belt and Road Initiative

with Mia Benett, Assistant Professor, Geography and Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Hong Kong

Mia Bennett

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is often described as one of the largest infrastructure projects in world history. The initiative spans over 70 countries and now even officially reaches into the Arctic region. Still, it is unclear whether the BRI is a vision, a blueprint, an already-existing reality, or something in between. Separating the BRI from China’s wider efforts to invest in global infrastructure is also challenging. Indeed, that is arguably part of BRI’s allure: as a flexible initiative without an official map, the BRI can be stretched to encompass projects that encounter success while those that fail can be left to fall off the map, so to speak. In light of these cartographic uncertainties, this talk will examine the BRI from two perspectives. First, she discussed how the BRI can be studied from space using remote sensing, specifically nighttime-light imagery. Second, drawing on methods in political geography, she discussed one under-researched component of the BRI: the “Polar Silk Road,” an Arctic shipping route that China seeks to develop with Russia to enhance trade between Asia and Europe. In short, this talk suggested new methods for examining the BRI at larger spatial and temporal scales and new theoretical approaches that emphasize a more environmentally sensitive political geography.

Mia Bennett is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and School of Modern Languages and Cultures (China Studies Programme) at the University of Hong Kong. Her research examines the geopolitics of infrastructure development in the Arctic and areas within China's Belt and Road Initiative through fieldwork and remote sensing. She is founder and editor of the Cryopolitics blog and regularly freelances for publications such as The Maritime Executive

The Riding the Belt and Road Network is sponsored by the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies under the Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) Grant, and housed within the Duke University Energy Initiative. If you have questions, please contact:

January 31, 2019 | 12:30 PM

China's Belt and Road Initiative: Navigating Competing Interests in Chinese Geo-economic Policy

Belt Road Initiative Flyer

The International Law Society organized a discussion on China's Belt and Road Initiative and challenges in implementing the policy. Speakers included Austin Pierce from Vinson & Elkins Houston office, Dr. Jackson Ewing from the Nicholas Institute of Environmental Policy and Sanford School of Public Policy, and Dr. Shitong Qiao from Duke Law. The discussion was moderated by Prof. Paul Haagen.  The event was sponsored by the International Law Society, Environmental Law Society, and Law & Economics Society. 

January 14, 2019 


A Conversation with Charles Stevens, co-founder of The New Silk Road Project

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Charles Stevens is an undergraduate student studying history at the University of Saint Andrews. He has a particular interest in the philosophical underpinnings and trade aspects of China's Belt and Road Initiative, as well as China's power engagement with Central Asia.

After observing some of the Chinese led infrastructure developments when cycling across Asia in 2016, he created The New Silk Road Project; an expedition, supported by Jeep and the University of Saint Andrews, to document the land-based component of the BRI by compiling interviews from leading actors and academics across Europe and Asia. He is working on building an interactive map to address the deficit in cross-regional academic communication on the topic and enjoys riting for online and print-based publications including US-China Focus, Centre for Strategic and International Studies and Geographical.

Searching for Answers Along China’s Belt and Road


China’s touts its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as the largest international infrastructure project in human history. Drawing comparisons to post-WWII reconstruction in Europe, the BRI seeks to connect China to countries near and far over land and sea and is becoming a signature foreign policy enterprise for Chinese President Xi Jinping. Understanding this modern initiative requires considering China’s historical, cultural, and economic place in its traditional neighborhood and beyond.

This session contextualized the BRI as a revitalization of China’s longstanding efforts to shape its role regionally and globally. It showed the ways in which the BRI seeks to extend China’s cultural influence and soft power, and demonstrate how the BRI reveals China’s growing influence within the global economy. Finally, the session explored the BRI from the outside in, offering questions about its socioeconomic and environmental implications for recipient countries.


Belt and Road Graduate Student Network Meeting

The D-SIGN Belt and Road Graduate Student Network organized a lunch event on Friday, October 26 in the Environment Hall Gallery to report on recent workshops held at Duke Kunshan University and to talk about upcoming BRI related work and events at Duke.  Indermit Gill, director of Duke Center for International Development presented his work on BRI followed by Q&A. Later, participants reflected on the BRI workshops at DKU and also discussed other possible events that the Riding the Belt and Road graduate network could participate in.

October 13-17, 2018

Duke-DKU International Symposium  on Environmentally and Socially Responsible Outbound Foreign Direct Investment


This article was published in Duke Today on October 24, 2018.

The groups from Duke and Duke Kunshan universities co-hosted a five-day symposium to share knowledge and build connections that will help answer an important question: How can we collaborate to meet the sustainability challenges created when investment takes place across national boundaries?

The events on Duke Kunshan’s campus addressed how to better understand and plan for China’s vast increase in infrastructure investment abroad, especially for projects that are part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI is China’s evolving policy to foster “New Silk Road” trade with a large group of countries through trillions of dollars of investments in construction, including ports, roads, railways and power plants. Such projects can foster economic growth and bring benefits to countries involved in the initiative, but can also cause serious environmental and social harms, depending on how they are done. 

The events were co-hosted by the Environmental Research Center at Duke Kunshan, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, and the Duke Center for International & Global Studies, both at Duke, and were co-sponsored by the Duke Kunshan University Center for the Study of Contemporary China and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Shanghai Representative Office. Details.

Biodiversity and Infrastructure Mapping Workshop

To increase the effectiveness of biodiversity, ecosystem services and mitigation mapping for influencing the planning of infrastructure in Asia and Africa, Duke University and Duke Kunshan University jointly hosted the Belt and Road Biodiversity Mapping Workshop. The workshop aimed to align the efforts and data of concerned institutions, reduce duplication of work, and standardize methods for the mapping of biodiversity and ecosystem services in relation to the BRI. This workshop brought experts together in order to explore the most effective ways to combine biodiversity, ecosystem services, and infrastructure project data. Workshop attendees also planned for effective ways to get resulting biodiversity information into the hands of the proper decision makers. This workshop represented one in a series of workshops which was held at DKU on related, but distinct elements of the Duke Green Belt and Road Initiative.

This three-day workshop included government officials from China and key US and China think tanks and NGO representatives who focus on using the resulting mapping data. The workshop also provided opportunities for environmental students from the MEM and iMEP programs to engage in the biodiversity mapping processes.

Project Leads: Stuart Pimm, Ph.D., sends e-mail); Elizabeth Losos, Ph.D. sends e-mail); Lydia Olander, Ph.D. sends e-mail); Sara Mason sends e-mail); Binbin Li, Ph.D., sends e-mail); Kathinka Furst, Ph.D., sends e-mail); Moon Joon Kim, Ph.D., sends e-mail).

September 7, 2018


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The kick-off event for the Riding the Belt and Road network was organized on September 7, 2018. The goal of the event was to update each other on the latest research related to BRI, to avoid reinventing the wheels, and to be more connected with Duke Kunshan Campus and think tanks outside of Duke.

The presenters included Jackson Ewing, Lydia Olander, Elizabeth Losos, Seth Morgan, Sara Mason, Erik Myxter-lino, Xiaolan You, Zainab Qazi and Yating Li. Indermit Gill from Duke Center for International Development briefly summarized four papers related to BRI, which will be featured in the next event.

A wide range of perspectives related to BRI was covered

  • Roads and power plants
  • Environmental impact, ecosystem impact, economic importance
  • Framework to understand what lead to greener projects
  • Understanding BRI strategies with broader context of climate change
  • Using machine learning techniques to identify transmission line

The event was supported by D-SIGN with more than 60 students and faculty members from various departments participating.

May 26-28, 2018

Shanghai Forum

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Elizabeth Losos from the Nicholas Institute at Duke University participated in the session ‘Global Green Governance: Environmental Challenges and Opportunities of B&R Initiative’ at the Shanghai Forum 2018 Conference. The title of her talk was ‘Constructing a Sustainable Belt and Road: Identifying and Mitigating the Negative Environmental Impacts of BRI.The conference which was held in Shanghai from May 26 – 28, 2018 attracted around 400 guests from academic, government and business sectors.

Shanghai Forum Agenda


February 26, 2018

round-table discussion on Belt and Road


Jackson Ewing, a senior fellow at Duke University's Nicholas Institute of Environmental Policy Solutions and an adjunct associate professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy led a round-table discussion on Belt and Road following the kick-off event of Energy Access Project at Duke in DC. He works closely with the Duke Kunshan University Environmental Research Center and International Masters of Environmental Policy programs to build policy research collaboration across Duke platforms in the United States and China. The roundtable discussion highlighted the intersection of energy and environmental issues, and the importance of getting a better understanding of Chinese investment in the energy sector. 

The three focus groups of the round-table were as follows.

  1. Reconnecting Asia Data, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) led by Jonathan E. Hillman, Fellow and Director of the Reconnecting Asia Project
  2. Green Products, led by Tao Hu, Director, China Program, World Wildlife Fund
  3. Coal Power Plants, led by Jennifer L. Turner, Director of China Environment Forum, Wilson Center

February 22, 2018

One Belt, Many Questions

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The Duke Green Belt and Road Initiative hosted a webinar presentation by Jonathan Hillman, director of the Reconnecting Asia Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Jonathan’s lecture described CSIS’s work related to the Belt and Road and he presented the Reconnecting Asia database, which hosts information on infrastructure projects across Eurasia. The lecture focused on the Belt and Road’s overland routes—their economic implications, challenges, and questions for future research. 10 students and faculty members joined this webinar which was followed by Q and A session.


January 19, 2018 | 10:00 am

Constructing Africa’s Future: The Environmental and Social Implications of Chinese-Financed Infrastructure in Africa 

Leading academics, journalists, policymakers, and NGO experts discussed the environmental and social implications of Chinese-financed infrastructure in Africa on Friday, January 19 on the Duke University campus. The workshop assessed how Duke/DKU and partner institutions could contribute to infrastructure planning in Africa so as to optimize its impact on the environment and global health.

Details of the Event
Summary Report of the Event


  • Howard French, (virtual attendance) School of Journalism, Columbia University
    From Going Out to One Belt One Road – Understanding China’s Africa Policies in a Global Perspective
  • Michelle Lee, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
    Green and Blue conservation agendas alongside Chinese development in Gabon
  • April Raphiou, International Communications Consultant
    The framing of Chinese engagement in Kenya and Nigeria as portrayed through local media
  • Jackson Ewing, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
    The Inconsistency of China’s Environmental Impacts in Africa
  • Tao Hu, WWF China Program 
    Greening Infrastructure along the Belt and Road
  • Jingjing Zhang, Environmental Law Institute, Georgetown University
    Chinese overseas investment: the environmental and social impact and legal accountability

The event was sponsored by the Duke Green Belt and Road Initiative, an initiative of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Duke Kunshan University that draws together colleagues from across Duke to address the environmental and social impacts of China’s new Silk Road infrastructure investments in Asia and Africa. The event was funded by the Duke Africa Initiative and the Nicholas Institute.

November 30, 2017 | 5:30 pm

China’s Global Plans For Infrastructure Expansion: Why Is Everybody So Worried?

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William Laurance, a distinguished research professor at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, presented "China’s Global Plans For Infrastructure Expansion: Why Is Everybody So Worried?" at 5 p.m. Thursday, November 30, in Duke University's Environment Hall Room 1111. The presentation, which Laurance delivered remotely, examined the impact of Chinese Belt and Road infrastructure development on biodiversity in tropical Asia and Africa. This event was open to the public and refreshments were served.

This lecture was part of the Duke-DKU Green Belt and Road Webinar Series, which presents topics focused on the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. 

October 19, 2017

Webinar with Rose Niu

Chief Conservation Officer, The Paulson Institute
Observation and inference from participation in building an ecological civilization in China

September 12, 2017 | 6:00 pm

Economics of Environmental Data Manipulation


Junjie Zhang, director of the iMEP Program and Environmental Research Center at Duke Kunshan University, presented “Economics of Environmental Data Manipulation,” from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 12.

Environmental regulation is often compromised in China when government officials are facing competing political targets other than environmental quality. Zhang discussed his research to not only refine the method of data manipulation but also provide a political economy interpretation of data falsification behavior in China, using a unique data set that combines reported air quality information with resume details of city party secretaries and mayors.

This talk was part of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the University Program in Environmental Policy seminar series featuring leading experts discussing a variety of pressing environmentally focused topics.