China and the US Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement

Diki Sherpa, Research Assistant, Institute of Chinese Studies

After months of prevarication, United States President Donald Trump on 1 June 2017, pulled his country out of the historic Paris agreement on climate change – despite pressure from world leaders at the G7 summit. The agreement was adopted in 2015 by 195 nations, with 147 ratifying it—including the US, the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter after China. It was an initial bilateral agreement between the US and China that became a template for the Paris agreement.[1] It was built on the idea that by 2050, coal-fired power plants that contribute to half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions would be replaced by renewable energy.[2]

Being a non-binding deal, India pledged to cut its emissions by 30-35 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.[3] India, like other developing countries, is also meant to receive funds in order to switch to clean energy production. However, with America’s withdrawal,all these appear a distant dream.

Nonetheless, Trump’s ‘America first’ strategy brought some unforeseen dynamics into play that China and others are willing to take advantage of. Countries are closing ranks and making new alliances. In a statement to the press, Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Union commissioner on climate action and energy stated,

‘No one should be left behind, but the EU and China have decided to move forward. Our successful cooperation on issues like emissions trading and clean technologies are bearing fruit. Now is the time to further strengthen these ties to keep the wheels turning for ambitious global climate action .’[4]

In this regard, former Indian Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, Shyam Saran, also suggested that

‘India should explore opportunities to revive a coalition of emerging economies, including China, to ensure that the ongoing multilateral negotiations to impart substantive content and to spell out specific measures elaborating the general provisions of the agreement adhere to the principles and provisions of the UNFCCC.’[5]

However, the question that arises is how long will such a coalition last? For instance, take China’s ambitious ‘one belt, one road’ or ‘belt and road’ initiative (BRI), a Chinese-funded infrastructure project designed to connect China to scores of countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa that make up around 60 per cent of the world’s population. In this, Europe like other countries has expressed its apprehension with regard to China’s compliance with global trade norms and related issues. [6]

Undoubtedly these are big issues that are not easy to overcome and there is the danger that China itself will lower its commitment as far as its goals on climate change are concerned. Moreover, China’s unprecedented development objective along the BRI is not free of environmental concerns. China’s continued finance to coal power plants in regions such as Pakistan and Southeast Asia implies that the developments will continue and multiply pollution.[7] With this scenario, reaching the goals that China has set for itself in the Paris agreement – keeping global temperature rise well under 2°C is unlikely. Further, Trump’s speech implies that US will double its carbon emissions in future.[8] Therefore, countries forming a coalition to carry on the ambitious deal on climate change might find the going difficult.

The second important aspect is that of funding. The US has been a source of finance and technology for developing countries in their efforts. It had pledged to contribute US$3 billion – followed by Japan’s US$1.5 billion, the UK’s US$1.2 billion, and US$1 billion each from France and Germany – to the green climate fund. [9] Therefore, the US withdrawal has made the funding for developing nations uncertain, to some extent. Now, it has become incumbent upon other developed nations and China to bear more of the financing costs.
Earlier, when the US was working hard to dismantle the climate policy that it had created, China was pushing for the rapid expansion of clean energy and assuming the mantle of global climate change. China championed green finance and reportedly remain committed to the green bonds.[10] The reshuffling of the world order in the wake of Trump’s announcement has allowed China to fill the void both geopolitically and economically.


[1] The White House. 2014. ‘Fact Sheet: U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change and Clean Energy Cooperation’, Office of the Press Secretary, 11 November, (accessed on 2 June 2017).

[2] The White House. 2015. ‘U.S.-China Joint Presidential Statement on Climate Change’, Office of the Press Secretary, 25 September. (accessed on 3 June 2017).

[3] National research Development Corporation. 2016. ‘The Road From Paris: India’s Progress Toward Its Climate Pledge’ , Issue Brief: 16-10-D, November, (accessed on 3 June 2017).

[4] CNN. 2017. ‘EU, China unite behind Paris climate deal despite Trump withdrawal’, 1 June, (accessed on 4 June 2017).

[5] Saran, Shyam. 2017. ‘Trump Knocks Down Paris peace pact’ The Tribune, 3 June, (accessed on 4 June 2017).

[6] Corre, Philip Le . 2017. ‘Europe’s mixed views on China’s One Belt, One Road initiative’, Order From Chaos, Brookings, 23 May, (accessed on 4 June 2017).

[7] Ha Yafei,. 2014. ‘China’s overcapacity crisis can spur growth through overseas expansion’, South China Morning post, 7 January, (accessed on 19 June).

[8] Hunt, Elle. 2017. ‘Paris climate agreement: World reacts as Trump pulls out of global accord – as it happened’ , The guardian, 2 June, (accessed on 4 June 2017).

[9] Green Climate Fund, (accessed on 4 June 2017).

[10] Xu Nan and Wang Yao. 2016. ‘China’s green bond market booms with more clarity in policy’, Chinadialogue, 29 July, (accessed on 19 June 2017).

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