Under the administration of President Barack Obama, the U.S. joined the rest of the world and took a leading role in global efforts to avert irreversible climate change.
But that seems unlikely to continue under the Trump administration, which has nominated climate-science deniers to numerous key positions.
Just yesterday, the head of Trump's EPA transition team said the administration planned to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.
But if the U.S. relinquishes its leadership in addressing climate change, another powerful nation is quite happy—even eager to step in and take its place.
That nation is China. While it depends on coal for three-quarters of its electricity today, but it is making efforts and taking numerous actions to promote renewable energy, backed by strong regulations and policies.
At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Chinese delegation "seemed to preach climate action every chance it got," reports The New York Times.
Chinese President Xi Jinping argued for a follow-up to the Paris climate agreement signed in 2015 in a speech that also focused heavily on globalization—a stance that further separates him from the Trump administration's viewpoints.
Nur Bekri, China's energy minister, said that climate change was not only an issue to be dealt with, but that it is "caused by our use of energy."
China is known for having some of the most polluted air in the world, but recently it has begun numerous steps to wean itself off fossil fuels.
The government recently announced that it will cancel plans to build 103 coal-fired power plants, to address both its commitments under the Paris agreement and urgent concerns from officials over the health effects of rampant air pollution.
Aggressive promotion of so-called "New Energy Vehicles"—a category that includes battery-electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles—over the past few years is also aimed at reducing pollution in China's crowded cities.
Both policies also help the country achieve the economic goal of becoming a global leader in renewable-energy and electric-car technology, by helping spur demand for those technologies.
Geely Emgrand EV
In 2015, China was the world's largest market for plug-in electric cars, although many of the vehicles sold there are low-speed neighborhood electric vehicles, or plug-in hybrids that may not get plugged in very often.
However, China has refused to accept international monitoring of its carbon emissions which, along with conflicting data about the country's energy use, has created doubts about the sincerity of its desire to reduce emissions.
While China may have been one of the consequential and surprising voices to speak up for climate change at Davos, it was not alone.
Nirmala Sitharaman—India's minister of state for commerce and industry—said her country is "no longer on the fringe" of climate-change policy.
Trumpchi GE3, 2017 Detroit auto show
A group of 62 executives also discussed spurring President Trump to take greater action on climate change.
The Trump administration's actions in its first week and a half have so far left climate-change policy intact—though the omens are not good—but the administration's rhetoric alone may have a damaging effect.
It could mean that the U.S. may simply start to be written off as a political force in this area by nations whose leaders wholly accept the science of climate change.
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