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China and its climate leadership in a changing world - From passive follower to constructive shaper of the global order

Substantial changes are underway in a number of countries and in international politics. Time is also running short for the global community to tackle climate change. Donald Trump’s election as US president and the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has cast a long shadow over international climate cooperation and diplomacy. The world community is looking to China to help fill the leadership vacuum in international climate politics. This discussion paper seeks to provide a list of concrete recommendations for operationalising China’s global climate leadership and the rationale for why China should go for it. It takes as its starting point China’s role as a constructive shaper of the global governance regime, which not only represents the new strategic direction in China’s foreign policy, but also challenges and opportunities for European countries in exploring shared leadership with China.

Substantial changes are underway in a number of countries and in international politics. The Western world in particular finds itself at a pivotal moment when political drawbridges are rising. At the same time the international community’s window for preventing dangerous climate change is closing, and drawbridges are precisely the opposite of what is required for effective diplomacy and cooperation.

Rising support for populists, as exemplified by the election of US President Trump, has disrupted the politics of many Western societies and altered the status-quo of international relations. Populists agitate against the globalized world – be it migration, the free flow of goods and information, or institutions of international cooperation. Yet, climate change and sustainable development – among many other topics – are challenges that cannot be tackled by any single country alone.

Of course, it should be noted that recent elections may also paint a brighter picture, with elections in Austria, the Netherlands, and France indicating a halt in these trends. The new Macron government could provide an opening for reenergizing the Franco-German ‘reform engine,’ and improve and stabilize EU cooperation. Rather than a rising tide, populist movements may therefore be better thought of as the high waves.

It is also available in Chinese: 时代变革下的中国及其气候领导力--从被动的跟随者到全球秩序的关键塑造者