A view of a wind turbine from the old city of Wushu, China, January 2011. 
Sheng Li / REUTERS

Just as the United States appeared poised to take a victory lap after securing a string of successes on climate change, Donald Trump was elected to the U.S. presidency, suggesting that Washington might abandon its leadership role instead. Trump and his advisers have vowed to withdraw the United States from climate accords abroad and to abandon President Barack Obama’s push for clean energy at home.

If the Trump administration keeps those promises, China will probably step into the leadership vacuum left by the United States. At first glance, that might seem like good news, since China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, leads the world in the production and deployment of clean energy, and will probably meet the international climate-action pledges it has made so far.

The trouble is that China would lead on climate-change issues only insofar as doing so would advance its national

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  • VARUN SIVARAM is the Douglas Dillon Fellow and Acting Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations. SAGATOM SAHA is a research associate for energy and U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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