China and America’s Diverging Paths on Climate Leadership

President Trump and President Xi Jinping’s first meeting this week is intended to establish a personal relationship and search for common ground on issues including security and trade. However, climate change and energy policy will likely receive scant attention as America and China are embarking on wildly divergent paths. China is actively planning for a sustainable low-carbon economy, while the United States wrestles with a White House that rejects climate action, celebrates fossil fuels, and faces increasing resistance from businesses, governors, mayors and citizens who support low-carbon development.

Here are the three most striking contrasts between America and China on climate leadership:

1. “Cancelling” the Paris Climate Agreement vs. Championing international climate action

  • President Trump has threatened to “cancel” the Paris Climate Agreement, which nearly 200 countries around the world have joined and is supported by strong majorities of Americans.
  • President Xi encourages all nations to participate in this “hard won” climate victory, and the Chinese Foreign Minister reiterated China’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement saying that they will act no matter what the U.S. does.


2. Attempting to gut climate protections vs. Supporting clean energy jobs

  • President Trump’s recent executive orders attempt to roll back critical environmental protections like the Clean Power Plan and vehicle emissions standards.
  • China will add 800 to 1000 gigawatts of electricity capacity by 2030—equivalent to the capacity of the entire U.S. electric grid. China is already the world leader in new installations of wind and solar power.


3. Favoring fossil fuel lobbyists vs. Curbing emissions from the coal sector

  • President Trump falsely claims that his energy policy can revive jobs in the coal sector, despite decades of coal decline due to its devastating health and environmental costs and the market advantages of natural gas and renewable energy.
  • China recently established the first ever mandatory target for coal’s share of total energy consumption—seeking to decrease it from 64 percent in 2015 to 58 percent by 2020. And China’s energy and cement-related CO2 emissions in 2016 were basically flat, continuing a leveling-off of China’s CO2 emissions since 2014.


President Trump may not be ready to walk down the path of tackling the climate change challenge, but he is putting Americans’ security and prosperity at risk by doing so. It is becoming increasingly clear that Trump is willing to weaken environmental protections for Americans and let China eclipse us in the global clean energy race—all to satisfy special interests from his cronies in the fossil fuel industry. 

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