Skip to Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues Full Site Menu Skip to main content
February 12, 2018

Responding To: The Future of U.S.-China Climate Change Efforts

China's Leadership on Climate Change

Billy Pizer

Will China replace the United States a global leader in climate change? There is both a "yes" and a "no" answer to this. The "yes" answer recognizes that almost by default when the United States steps aside and is not playing the same role, other countries are going to step up a little. China has always been a significant actor in the room, perhaps not leading but certainly participating, so this amplifies the attention that gets paid to these other parties.

At the same time, I do not think China’s interests indicate the same degree of deep motivation that we saw in the Obama administration. In China, climate policy was partly driven by common sense that this was a problem that affected China and was important, but it was also driven by the fact that it was seen as an area of cooperation with the United States, at a time when many areas were not. So, China benefited from the fact that it was a good area for both countries to work together. Without the United States as a partner on climate change, I doubt that China will have the same enthusiasm it previously did. In some sense, climate policy now becomes another friction point with the United States. In short, I think China will play a bigger role; I do not think they will suddenly become a leader in the same way the United States was trying to lead going into the Paris Agreement.

Billy Pizer is a professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. He is a participant in the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues faculty research group on climate change.

Other Responses