Just a few days before President-elect Donald Trump takes office as the 45th president of the United States, China's President Xi Jinping reiterated the importance of the Paris agreement. China invests in renewable energy more than any other country in the world and, despite being the #1 polluter in absolute numbers, the country has made important contributions to reduce its greenhouse gas footprint.
During his campaign, Trump has made a series of statements that positioned him as a "climate change denier". He once stated climate change is a 'hoax' manufactured by the Chinese to undermine the United States' competitivity on the global markets. Trump also vowed to repeal federal spending on green energy, kill the Clean Power Act, and withdraw the country from the Paris Agreement.
The Paris Agreement is an international pact signed in 2015 at the COP21 in France which draws guidelines on a country by country basis in order to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius past Industrial Age levels. The Obama Administration signed an agreement in China last summer in which the U.S. pledged to cut net greenhouse gas emissions by 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025 while China promised to peak emissions by 2030.
Naturally, Chinese officials were very worried by Trump's statements. In November, Xie Zhenhua, China’s special representative for climate change affairs, called out Trump to uphold the Paris Agreement. “I’m convinced, if it’s a wise leader—especially a political leader—he ought to know that all his policies should conform to the trends of global development," Zhenhua stated.
During his keynote at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this Tuesday, President Xi Jinping made it clear that his country is steadfast in its program to tackle climate change and that Paris agreement signatories have a responsibility to uphold their end of the deal. This message seems to allude to Trump.
“The Paris agreement is a hard-won achievement… all signatories should stick to it rather than walk away,” Xi said. “It is important to protect the environment while pursuing economic and social progress — to achieve harmony between man and nature, and harmony between man society.”
Xi's speech follows recent news that China covered all its new energy demands in 2015 with renewable energy and that it would invest $360 bn. in renewable energy by 2020. These measures are in stark contrast to Trump's program which promises to 'end the war on coal' and repeal federal spending on clean tech.
If Trump really is serious about withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, this hard-fought victory might become jeopardized. However, China seems more than willing to fill the void if this happens and, thus, become the world's climate champion. This position comes with its perks and will strengthen China's leverage politically and economically. Hopefully, Trump will know better.