As U.S. Sheds Role as Climate Change Leader, Who Will Fill the Void?

 In U.S.

Political analysts say it’s not clear whether any of them can replace the United States and the immense diplomatic machinery it commands when engaged on an issue. Here’s a look at some of the strengths those leaders bring and the challenges they face.


Photo illustration by NYT; photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

1. Xi Jinping

President Xi Jinping didn’t mention Mr. Trump by name at the opening of the Communist Party Congress last month, but his meaning was clear when he declared that China had taken a “driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change.” He also criticized countries that “retreat into self-isolation.”

Many political analysts say China has indeed moved dramatically on climate change, both to meet its own pledge under the Paris accord to cap carbon emissions by 2030, and to start the world’s largest carbon market and swiftly expand the use of electric cars. In recent months, China has hosted ministerial-level meetings on clean energy and joined Canada and the European Union to lead discussions on climate.

Robert N. Stavins, the director of the environmental economics program at Harvard University who was in China recently to discuss climate change, said he had seen a dramatic shift in tenor among Chinese officials. “Having been engaged very, very closely on climate change with the Obama administration as a co-leader, China appears quite content to move from co-leadership to sole leadership,” he said.

Yet skepticism abounds. While the country is ahead of its Paris target, China still burns more coal than any other country. It also remains to be seen how eager the country will be to allow greater transparency of its own carbon reduction efforts, and many fear it will revert to old demands that it and other developing countries be treated with softer rules.


Photo illustration by NYT; photo by Kham/Reuters

2. Justin Trudeau

For many years Canada was considered a laggard on climate change, leaving the Kyoto Protocol and rarely making an impression at United Nations negotiations.

That all changed with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who cozied up to panda bears and declared “Canada is back” at the Paris global warming talks in 2015. Mr. Trudeau said he was “deeply disappointed” in the United States’ decision to withdraw from the Paris deal, declaring “Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change.”

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