When Donald Trump was announced as the next U.S. president, it likely meant the end of the United States’s leadership role in the global fight against climate change. As a result, we could see the rise of a new country leading the fight against climate change: China.

China has been working diligently with the Obama administration during its final days to make headway following the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The United States and China are two of the world’s biggest polluters and when the two countries decided to team up, it helped to spur the agreement that is currently supported by nearly 200 countries.

Unlike Obama, Trump is a climate skeptic, even arguing that the Chinese were behind the global warming movement in the first place. Trump has already said he wants to reverse many of the measures the Obama administration put in place to help mitigate climate change and says he wants to withdraw the country’s support of the historic deal entirely.

In September, Trump appointed Myron Ebell, a notable climate change denier, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the transition to Trump’s administration. Under Obama, the EPA implemented the Clean Power Plan, which Ebell claims is illegal and adds that Obama’s actions to join the Paris climate treaty are unconstitutional.

China has been working to reduce the smoggy conditions that plague Beijing.
China has been working to reduce the smoggy conditions that plague Beijing. 

The goal of the historical agreement is to phase out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with each participating country tasked with developing its own plan to do so. China has said that no matter what the United States ends up doing under the Trump administration, its efforts to combat climate change will not falter.

“Proactively taking action against climate change will improve China’s international image and allow it to occupy the moral high ground,” Zou Ji, deputy director of the National Centre for Climate Change Strategy and a senior Chinese climate talks negotiator, told Reuters.

“Action by the international community will not stop because of the new government of the United States,” he explained. “We still have confidence the international community will join hands and continue our efforts on climate change.”

China is looking to become a leader in the global fight against change as a way to clean up its image. The country aims to become the world leader in renewable energy technologies — like wind and solar — which is a bit of a twist as it has historically balked at outside attempts to slash carbon emissions.

Trump cannot force any other country from backing out of the agreement, and he also cannot reverse Obama’s efforts overnight. He can, however, choose to ignore the agreement, which would substantially weaken the world’s chances at reducing carbon emissions. Since the United States is the second largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China, anything short of continuing Obama’s efforts would likely set us down a path we may never recover from.

Photos via Ng Han Guan/AP, Getty Images / Joe Raedle