The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that 2016 was the second hottest year on record in the United States and is likely to be confirmed as the hottest worldwide. The findings are not unexpected – 2015 was previously the hottest year on record – but they underline the problem of who is going to lead the struggle against climate change once Donald Trump is installed in the White House on January 20.
The Trump administration is likely to abandon Barack Obama’s leadership on climate and energy policy in favour of a stance which is negative or at least passive. One of the Obama administration’s greatest achievements was the 2015 Paris climate deal, the result of a fruitful partnership with China. A second notable success of US diplomacy working with China was the agreement in Kigali in October to amend the Montreal Protocol which will curb the use of some of the worst greenhouse gases. Duncan Brack explains the combination of diplomacy and technology with ensured success in Kigali.
So will China pick up the baton that Washington is about to drop? There are huge soft power advantages for China if it takes the lead on climate change over the next two years, argues Felix Preston. Beijing certainly needs to show its citizens that it is capable of improving air quality. But there are also significant risks if Beijing forges ahead without US cover. One of these is the prospect of international criticism of China’s continued construction of coal power stations which are being phased out in the developed world.