What Would a China-Led Global Climate Policy Look Like?

What Would a China-Led Global Climate Policy Look Like?
A passenger airliner flies past steam and white smoke emitted from a coal-fired power plant, Beijing, Feb. 28, 2017 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

Stories abound in the U.S. press about the hollowing out of the State Department. Employees at Foggy Bottom have relocated from work desks to cafeteria tables to spend their newfound free time over paperbacks and coffee. But there is one table that U.S. diplomats could find themselves absent from this fall—the negotiating table at the next international climate meeting in Bonn in May.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s skepticism of climate change guarantees that his administration will cede leadership on the issue. “We’re not spending money on that anymore,” Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Budget and Management, said last month. Trump has already scrapped the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. emissions-reduction pledge under the Paris Agreement, and is expected to renege on U.S. financial commitments to fund innovative energy technologies and help developing countries mitigate climate change.

The immediate effects of this U.S. retrenchment are worrying, but the long-term cost of abdicating climate leadership will be far more consequential. American negotiators were essential to building international consensus around the Paris Agreement. By walking back U.S. climate commitments, Trump offers Chinese President Xi Jinping the opportunity to pick up the baton. Although Beijing had previously resisted international efforts to establish binding carbon emission limits, it recently made significant efforts to limit its emissions and is now urging the United States to uphold its climate commitments—instead of the other way around.

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