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Why did China move from laggard to leader on climate change?
Can China lead the fight against global climate change? The question itself sums up the phenomenal transformation of China’s climate diplomacy in the past decade. Only 10 years ago, Chinese leadership on climate change was not even a consideration. Today, a steadfast commitment to the Paris process, leadership in the use of renewable sources, and active engagement in a number of multilateral initiatives beyond the COP negotiations have made China an indispensable party to all matters concerning global climate change.
China’s top climate negotiator, Zhao Yingmin, may insist that climate change requires mutual collaboration and commitment by all, but China’s negotiating leverage is in high demand. At the COP 25 meetings in Madrid last month, the expectations for Chinese leadership ranged from critical support in reining in Brazil’s excessive demands to ensuring the support of the rest of Asia — as one EU delegate observed: “If we get China, the rest of Asia will follow.”
And it doesn’t stop there. Next year, China will host one of the most important global forums on biodiversity in Yunnan. In the months before the COP 26 summit in Glasgow, China is also expected to work on a separate climate deal with the European Union.