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The greening of self-interest : why is China standing firm on its climate commitments despite US regression? Bain, Charlie


International observers might have expected China to respond to US defection on climate change with a similar defection, but it has shown no signs of doing so. Why? This paper argues that Chinese commitment to environmental targets, embodied by the Paris Agreement, is the result of a greening of self-interest: in other words, China has realised its existing domestic and foreign policy goals are best served by a realignment from unrestrained to more sustainable development. The primary drivers of this shift are the pursuit of domestic legitimacy, the economic benefits of industrial efficiency and green technology production, and a desire to improve China’s international reputation. The paper will utilise a range of academic, media and direct political sources to uncover the reality of Chinese foreign policy motivation piece by piece. It will end by reflecting on two logical corollaries of the main question: first, will China simply discard its climate commitments if the incentives it is faced with start to favour untrammelled environmental exploitation again? Discursive chains, norm internalisation and influence over the global normative framework may operate against this outcome. Second, how will Chinese leadership in the international sphere influence the nature of global environmental norms themselves? China’s climate strategy appears to embrace the consumption-led, industrial capitalist conception of environmentalism which already prevails, suggesting this rising giant is likely to further entrench existing norms rather than shift the world towards genuinely sustainable solutions.

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