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China’s climate diplomacy in a turbulent world

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping.  PHOTO/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS


Tensions arising from globalisation are increasing, leading to a trend towards deglobalisation and making the international action the climate crisis calls for even harder. The Covid-19 pandemic left countries isolated and estranged China Dialogue reports.

The war in Ukraine has led to antagonism and power struggles. China–US relations are at their worst since diplomatic relations were established in 1979. The lack of cooperation between the world’s two biggest carbon emitters makes global climate governance a bigger challenge, as the needed trust and cooperation becomes harder to achieve.

The last month has seen a flurry of climate diplomacy from China. A joint statement with France contained much of substance on the climate; another with Brazil was specifically on climate; and more climate dialogue and cooperation were discussed in talks Chinese leaders held with both Dr Sultan Al Jaber, president-designate of this year’s COP28 climate talks, and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.

This climate diplomacy should help promote a positive understanding of China in Europe and Latin America during these complex geopolitical times. It should also, through multilateral cooperation, inject new energy and impetus into global climate governance.

Since signing the Paris Agreement in 2015, China has attached much importance to bilateral climate cooperation. China and the US, despite tensions, have both treated the climate as a safer space in which to maintain cooperation, and although there have been setbacks, talks have not completely stopped. China has consistently taken climate issues seriously both at home and internationally, using bilateral and multilateral climate diplomacy to seek opportunities for cooperation and to contribute to international climate governance.

The author believes China’s active involvement in such diplomacy will increase understanding of its climate policy and action. When the outside world recognises China’s actions and successes on climate change, there will be benefits for climate governance both at home and worldwide.

Major power cooperation

Climate change is a systemic issue requiring a systemic response. No country can stand alone.

Emissions data show that cooperation between the largest emitters is crucial for achieving the targets of the Paris Agreement. In 2021, the six biggest emitters (China, the US, the EU, India, Russia, India and Japan) together accounted for 68% of global emissions; China, the US and the EU were responsible for over 50%, while the two biggest economies, China and the US, accounted for over 40%. The response to climate change must be a joint undertaking, and cooperation is essential for driving global climate governance forward.

A look back shows that despite difficulties and reversals, when the big emitters set a good example, it can have a real impact. For example, in March 2020, the EU enshrined its carbon neutrality target in law, and many countries followed suit. China–US cooperation once drove global climate policy design and ultimately led to the Paris Agreement.

Read the full story from China Dialogue here.


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