UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A gentle giant: the Paris Agreement and China's national branding strategy Pedersen-Macnab, Michaela Celeste


Prior to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, China consistently obstructed multilateral climate change governance, and instead advocated for national regulation and flexibility for developing states. However, at the World Economic Forum in January 2017, President Xi Jinping expressed strong support for the Paris Climate Agreement. This thesis seeks to explain China’s new approach to climate governance. In the first section, I evaluate the design of the Paris Agreement from a rationalist perspective to find that the Agreement compromises environmental outcomes to promote economic growth, trade liberalization, and national sovereignty. Further, I find that this design is consistent with China’s previously climate policy objectives. In the second section of this thesis, I argue that while the agreement is weak on environmental protection, the Paris Agreement represents a forum to signal responsible behavior, and therefore the Paris Agreement has instrumental value for China’s economic and development objectives. Thus, the Paris Agreement has become part of a larger legitimation strategy used by Chinese leadership, to signal China’s benevolent economic rise, particularly to the Global South. This thesis contributes to existing literature to suggest that, in the arena of climate change governance and economic development, China is largely a status quo power. Likewise, this thesis argues that the design of Paris Agreement is largely a continuation of previous agreements and negotiations, rather than a significantly different approach to climate governance.

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