China’s Position on Climate Change – Truly Sustainable?

By Kerry Brown and Benjamin Barratt

Back in 2009, the world would not have thought that China will be taking a leadership role in humanity’s struggle against climate change. Today, Kerry Brown and Benjamin Barratt discuss how China’s position has transformed and why it will stick.


With the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the USA in 2016, the issue of the global effort to combat climate change underwent a potential transformation. In his campaign at least, Trump had been at best ambiguous, and at worst antagonistic to the idea of human activity impacting on temperatures, and the potentially disastrous consequences that might come from this. While not withdrawing from the Paris Convention at the time of writing (May 2017) the US has gone from being proactive and engaged in this space to being passive, and possibly even opposed.

That immediately opened up space for the Chinese, the other essential constituent in the international effort. This in itself is a remarkable moment. In a key area, China, not the US, is displaying leadership. This is one of the most powerful illustrations of just how prominent China has now become, and how global the read of its influence.

This in itself is a remarkable moment. In a key area, China, not the US, is displaying leadership.

It is ever more noteworthy because less than a decade ago, when the Copenhagen Summit was convened in 2009, China would not have been placed amongst the more positive and co-operative players. Despite recognition domestically, by politicians and academics within the People’s Republic, that climate change was a serious problem, and that more needed to be done in terms of use of clean technologies and reduction of reliance on fossil fuels (the key contributor to greenhouse gases), the attitude remained that economic growth was the priority, and that it was the responsibility of the developed world, and in particular the US and the EU, to take the lead in cutting emissions.

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About the Authors

Kerry Bown (left) is Professor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Lau China Institute, King’s College, London. Benjamin Barratt (right) is Senior Lecturer in Chinese Environment at the Lau China Institute and in the Division of Analytical and Environmental Sciences at King’s. [/ms-protect-content]

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.