Chinese lead on climate change as US support melts

Antarctica, where climate change impacts are being seen

Dr Marc Lanteigne

China is trying to develop a more positive image as a leader in environmental issues, including in Antarctica and the Polar regions, says Dr Marc Lanteigne, a Massey University expert on the Asian superpower.

It was revealed at an Antarctica summit hosted by Beijing last week that China is interested in the Polar Regions in the field of scientific cooperation with other major actors – including New Zealand in Antarctica.

That news coincided with an announcement that a major crack has appeared in the Antarctica Ice Sheet, which is a strong signal that the warming effects which have been measured in the Arctic over the past few years have started to be duplicated near the South Pole, Dr Lanteigne says. He is a Canadian international security expert based at Massey’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies in Auckland, where he is currently doing research on Chinese foreign policy in relation to maritime issues and diplomacy, as well as its policy on polar areas.

The decision by US President Donald Trump to abandon its climate commitments means that the US may lose considerable credibility in the areas of environmental protection and polar affairs, and may open the door for Beijing to take more of a leading role in these areas, he says.

"With the US pulling out of the Paris climate accord, China is now in the unexpected position of being the largest global supporter of environmental cooperation,” Dr Lanteigne says. “Beijing affirmed in the weekend that it will remain in the agreement and seeking closer cooperation with the European Union and likely other major actors to move the agreement forward and continue to press for reductions in carbon emissions and the promotion of green technology."

Although China is still the largest producer of carbon emissions in the world, and pollution remains a serious problem in Chinese cities, many steps have been taken to shut down coal factories and promote alternative and sustainable energy sources, he says.

"With many in China identifying pollution as a serious health and economic issue, the Chinese government is in a good position to argue that it should take the lead in global green politics with the United States stepping backwards."


Dr Marc Lanteigne joined Massey recently as a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies (CDSS), in Auckland, New Zealand. Originally from Montréal, his research interests include Chinese and East Asian foreign policy, China’s engagement and cooperation with regional and international organisations, Arctic and Antarctic politics and security, Sino-European relations, and non-traditional security in Asia.

He is the author of China and International Institutions: Alternate Paths to Global Power (2005) and Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction (2009, 2013, 2015), and the co-editor of The Chinese Party-State in the 21st Century: Adaptation and the Reinvention of Legitimacy (2008) and China’s Evolving Approach to Peacekeeping (London and New York: Routledge, 2012).

He has written numerous chapters and articles on subjects, which include China’s East Asian diplomacy, China and Japan’s regional engagement of the South Pacific, and Beijing’s evolving strategic policies, including peacekeeping, maritime security, free trade and economic security.

More recently, he has researched Chinese interactions with Northern Europe and the Arctic region. In addition to China, he has researched and taught in Copenhagen, Fairbanks, London, New Delhi, New York, Nuuk (capital of Greenland), Prague, Reykjavík, Seoul, Tokyo, Vancouver, Washington and Zürich. He has given lectures at Chinese universities, including Peking University in Beijing and Tongji University in Shanghai on Chinese and East Asian foreign policy as well as regional non-traditional security issues, including maritime strategy and political economy.

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