It is intended, eventually, to stretch these milestones backwards in time. But, for now, we have provided a short pre-history.


Climate Change. Against a backdrop of news stories on retreating icecaps, in 1988 the UN created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Its first reports tentatively suggested that human action might have been responsible. By 1997 the evidence was sufficient to prompt governments to agree the Kyoto Protocol (whereby richer countries undertook to reduce their green-house gas emissions relative to the levels of 1990) although the agreement, minus the USA, only took effect in 2005. By that stage, scientists were convinced that the world would be lucky to hold temperature increases to less than 1.5°C.
Biodiversity. The growing awareness that the use of pesticides and the destruction of habitat was leading to the endangerment and disappearance led the UN in 1993 to endorse a Convention on Biodiversity, that urged upon countries the need for sustainable development and species preservation.
Infrastructure. For centuries economists have recognised that the provision of infrastructure was a necessary but insufficient condition for economic development. By the early 1980’s, however, the World Bank began to place more emphasis on governance as a precondition for providing development assistance (the famous ‘Washington consensus’) and reined back on the provision of infrastructure. The Asian Development Bank was an exception and in 2009 it published a report suggesting that the continent would need $13 trillion in infrastructural investment over the following decade.


OCTOBER 2010 UN Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Members agree to a fair and equitable sharing of genetic resources as a means towards their conservation and sustainable development. At the same meeting they adopted The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Most of the targets were (deliberately) vaguely formulated and even so, none of them were met.
MARCH 2011 Yale University’s Map of Life project constructed a database (and searchable map) of all recorded life on the planet
SEPTEMBER 2013 President Xi Jinping Speech at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan (summary). See also whole speech in Video. This speech marked the official launch of China’s infrastructure and connectivity plan for Eurasia, later known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
JANUARY 2014 IPCC Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A cautious statement that ‘It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.’ The estimates for the effects remained largely unchanged from those made seven years earlier.
NOVEMBER 2014 UN Strategic Plan for Migratory Species 2015-2023. The report implied criticism of the of the UN’s ‘institutional’ approach in favour of a realistic approach to protecting migratory routes and conserving endangered species.
MARCH 2015 Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. The first statement of intent of China’s BRI, though oriented more inwards towards China itself, so we remained none the wiser. NOTE As construction loans and contracts multiplied, it was clear that the operation involved spending on a massive scale, but there has never been an official clarification of what constituted a BRI project nor an official list of projects. The conflation of development loans and FDI makes quantitative analysis almost impossible.
JUNE 2015 Articles of Agreement of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. A separate text on interpretation of the articles was included. The AIIB was a Chinese initiative to direct international funding towards infrastructural projects. The USA and Japan were the main countries not to join.
DECEMBER 2015 United Nations Paris Agreement. 195 nations agreed that the world would strive to limit the global rise to 1.5°C but the individual pledges were so modest that it was always unlikely that the target would be reached. In June 2017, the USA withdrew from the agreement only to re-join in April 2021.
MAY 2016 Japan proposes an Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure and pledges $200 billion for the project
APRIL 2017 CPC Central Committee and State Council Guidance on Promoting Green Belt and Road committing the government to regulate BRI projects abroad with the aim of protecting biodiversity and the environment but stopping short of applying Chinese standards on projects abroad.
MAY 2017 Asia Africa Growth Corridor, Partnership for Sustainable and Innovative Development. A Vision Document stemmed from a joint India/Japan summit six months earlier, committing the two countries to pursue developmental cooperation ‘responsive to the needs of African countries.’ At a speech the following month President Shinzo Abe stressed the need to keep infrastructure construction open, transparent, fair and financially feasible for recipient nations.
JULY 2017 G20 Global Infrastructure Outlook report published, estimating the global need for infrastructure by 2040 at $94 trillion (plus a further $3.5 trillion to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals) but there was a finance gap of $15 trillion. In 2018 the estimates were finetuned, and a few more countries added to the detailed breakdown. The searchable database is here. NOTE: China accounts for $28 trillion of the investment and the developed countries for another $33 trillion. Together they also account for $7.2 trillion of the finance gap.

SEPTEMBER 2018 Global Wetland Outlook: State of the World’s Wetlands and their Services to People reports that since 1970 the world has lost 35% of its wetlands, leaving 25% of wetland dependent species threatened with extinction. Although 2,300 sites world-wide are listed as important, less than half have an effective management plan.

SEPTEMBER 2018 IPCC Special Report. Global Warming of 1.5°C. Go here for Summary for Policymakers. The report suggests that a failure to meet the 1.5°C target, even by 0.5°C would have severe and dangerous consequences.

FEBRUARY 2019 FAO The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture points out that the diversity of species used for foodstuffs has declined and that many species supporting food production are under threat.
APRIL 2019 UN Secretary-General António Guterres Remarks at the opening ceremony of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation endorses China’s BRI as ‘an important space where green principles can be reflected in green action’.
MAY 2019 IPBES Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services more than one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction over the next few decades. Climate change is the direct cause of decreasing biodiversity. Further causes include changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, pollution and invasive species. Although extinction events have happened on the planet for millions of years, the data show that intervals between extinctions are becoming shorter and shorter while the disappearance of species is advancing relentlessly
SEPTEMBER 2019 World Energy Council World Energy Scenarios 2019. Exploring Innovation Pathways to 2040 offers three scenarios for energy output, each with a different balancen between fossil fuel use and renewables.

MAY 2020 FAO and UNEP The State of the World’s Forests 2020. Forests, biodiversity and people reported (good news) that the rate of forest loss is slowing but (bad news) it is still continuing and there is no chance at all of meeting the UN goal of increasing global forest acreage by 3% by 2030.

SEPTEMBER 2020 WWF Living Planet Report 2020. Bending the Curve of Biodiversity Loss shows that planet’s wildlife populations have now plummeted by 68% since 1970 – and there are no signs that this downward trend is slowing. Suggests that the main cause of the dramatic decline in species populations on land is habitat loss and degradation, including deforestation, driven by how we as humanity produce food.
SEPTEMBER 2020 The European Commission, reacting to Feasibility and Scoping Study for the Commission to Become Climate Neutral by 2030. Final Report determined to convert the recommendations into European law Stepping up Europe’s 2030 climate ambition Investing in a climate-neutral future for the benefit of our people COM/2020/562 final. The measures would help achieve a higher target for a reduction of GhG emissions (from 40% to 55%) compared with 1990 levels and for the European Union to become carbon neutral by 2050.
MARCH 2021 Yale University’s map of Life project launches a Map of Undiscovered Life, indicating the probable unexplored areas for terrestrial species.
JUNE 2021 G7 communique after their meeting in Cornwall (UK) Our Shared Agenda for Global Action to Build Back Better confirms their commitment towards greener economic development and includes a pledge to create values-driven and transparent partnership to provide infrastructure to low- and middle-income countries (although China’s BRI is not specifically mentioned).

JULY 2021 UN Working Group present their First Draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework for the Kunming Conference, aiming at conserving at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans, at eliminating plastic waste and reducing the use of pesticides by at least two thirds.

AUGUST 2021 IPCC Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. The report if almost 4000 pages long so it might be better to start with the Summary for Policy Makers. The report demonstrates that the combined effects of human activity have already increased the global average temperature by about 1.1°C above the late 19th-century average. All five of the report’s temperature scenarios show the 1.5°C marker will be passed by 2040. Only one suggests that it could cool down afterwards. NOTE This report was only concerned with the science behind climate change. The report on mitigation is not expected until February 2022.