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Q&A with Andrew Steer: China Plays Big Climate Role on Global Stage

On the second anniversary of the Paris Agreement, Andrew Steer, president and CEO of WRI, told China Daily's Cui Shoufeng how the global fight against climate change should move forward after U.S. withdrawal from the climate accord. This article originally appeared on China Daily.

Will U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement dampen global efforts to combat climate change? What differences could it make?

The U.S. announcement that it intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is unfortunate and defies common sense. However, global momentum for climate action remains remarkably strong. We have seen no evidence that countries are stepping back on their efforts to implement the Paris Agreement. On the contrary, many countries' efforts are accelerating. Even the remaining countries that had not joined the Agreement (Syria and Nicaragua) have now joined it, leaving the United States as the only country backing out of the Agreement. The reason is that there is now a clear understanding that strong climate action is good for countries' economies, security and people.

Within the United States, President Donald Trump's attacks on climate change have prompted a backlash and a growing number of states and cities are responding with a sense of urgency. A recent report for the America's Pledge initiative found that more than 2,500 American organizations, businesses, cities and states have demonstrated a clear commitment to meet the Paris Agreement goals. These groups represent more than half of the U.S. economy; if they were their own country, they would be the third-largest economy in the world.

Other countries are moving forward as well. For instance, more than 19 countries, led by the United Kingdom and Canada, have announced that they will phase out the use of coal. And we've seen renewable energy expanding and prices dropping around the world. Despite Trump's attempts to revive the U.S. coal industry, the rate of closures of coal-fired power plants has accelerated since he came into office.

With the United States on the sidelines (not all its states), how can the signatories to the Paris Agreement revamp the cooperative mechanisms?

We don't see a need to revamp the Paris Agreement or other cooperative mechanisms. The Paris Agreement, for example, is strong and is designed to withstand challenges. Even if the United States officially withdraws from the Agreement, it wouldn't go into effect until November 2020 and the country could later decide to re-enter the Agreement. There are also other important international venues for action, such as the G20 and the Major Economies Forum, where climate action should be high on the agenda.

Is the West pushing China to take more responsibility than it should?

We are entering a new era in which climate leadership needs to come from all parts of the world.

We are also seeing emerging leadership from other countries, including notably in Europe, India, other middle-income countries, such as Mexico and Colombia, and a number of low-income countries and small island nations. India, for instance, has set very ambitious renewable energy targets and recently announced that it will surpass its renewable energy target of 175 gigawatts and now expects to reach 200 gigawatts of green capacity by 2022.

What can China contribute to the course?

In recent years, China has taken on a larger climate role on the global stage, which has benefited the country and the international community. It has enhanced its reputation and developed the diplomatic and economic clout to be a positive model for other countries. It can use its growing influence and investments in infrastructure development in other countries to sharpen its focus on sustainable development.

China can also continue to make progress on climate change and sustainable growth at home. It can continue to demonstrate that smart growth in the 21st century is green growth. Jobs in renewable energy, like solar and wind, are among the fastest growing sectors in the world.

And it can be a leader by advancing its national carbon trading market in 2018, which would effectively bring a quarter of the world's economy under a carbon price. China also has opportunities to advance sustainable growth at home by cutting industrial energy consumption, accelerating the production of electric cars, advancing sustainable urban growth and curbing maritime emissions.

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