China makes it clear they are ready to lead on climate if Donald Trump won’t

China looks ready to take the reins on climate action in the absence of strong U.S. leadership.

China’s President Xi Jinping speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Michel Euler
China’s President Xi Jinping speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Michel Euler

Taking the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday, Chinese president Xi Jingping had a message for President-elect Donald Trump: Don’t renege on the United States’ international promises, including the Paris climate agreement.

“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.”

Trump has promised to make withdrawing from the Paris agreement one of his first moves as president. Xi’s remarks, which come just days before Trump takes office as the 45th president of the United States, aren’t the first time time China has warned Trump against pulling out of the agreement: In early November, China’s top climate negotiator said that “a wise political leader should take policy stances that conform with global trends.”

Trump, who does not accept the scientific consensus on climate change, has claimed that climate change is a “hoax” created by the Chinese to make the United States less competitive in global markets. He has called the Paris climate agreement “bad for business” and falsely claimed that it allows “foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use.” In reality, the Paris agreement is built off of a set of independently decided national contributions, meaning each country is able to decide exactly how it will reduce its carbon emissions. Moreover, proponents of the deal argue that it will spur investment in green energy and create jobs in countries that remain within the agreement.

Unlike Trump, Xi seems to understand the economic potential latent within the Paris agreement. In his speech at Davos, he championed the idea of globalization, calling the global economy “the big ocean you cannot escape from.” Xi also praised innovation, calling on the world to “develop a dynamic, innovation-driven growth model.”

Xi’s remarks come just weeks after China announced that it would be investing $360 billion into clean energy, a move that the Chinese National Energy Administration expects will create 13 million jobs by 2020. In the United States, meanwhile, Trump has promised to cut all federal funding for clean energy research and development.

Earlier this weekend, China announced that it would suspend more than 100 coal-fired power projects, in an attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. China has already pledged to cap coal power generation at 1,100 gigawatts — a cap that would actually still allow coal demand to rise, but would limit coal power to about half of China’s expected power needs come 2020.

With the United States likely to leave a void in global climate action, Xi’s remarks suggest that China is ready to fill that space. In November, China’s top climate negotiator backed strong Chinese leadership on climate, telling Reuters that “proactively taking action against climate change will improve China’s international image and allow it to occupy the moral high ground.”

But while China — the world’s second-largest economy and second-biggest greenhouse gas polluter — can certainly wield a significant amount of influence on the global stage, climate action in the country also comes with a fair amount of caveats. As Neil Bhatiya and Tim Kovach explained in an article in Grist, China has often used climate action as a means of couching a deepening authoritarian power, especially with regards to ethnic minorities. And if the United States pulls out of payments to the U.N. Green Climate Fund — a fund aimed at helping developing nations mitigate and adapt to climate change — countries in sub-Saharan Africa could become increasingly dependent on China for aid, weakening the United States’ standing in those regions.