Walking the talk? Examining the EU and China's claims to climate leadership in the negotiation and implementation of the Paris Agreement


University of British Columbia

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Master of Laws - LLM




We are in the midst of a climate emergency: the necessity for global cooperation to ensure that the world succeeds in limiting global warming has never been clearer. Through the adoption of the Paris Agreement, 197 parties signalled their commitment to decisive action on climate change. But its success will depend on how this momentum can be carried forward. In light of a U.S. withdrawal in 2020, the EU and China have sought to promote their credibility as climate leaders on the world stage. The objective of this thesis is to assess the claims of the EU and China to climate leadership, in both the negotiation and implementation of the Paris Agreement. Drawing from leadership theory, I argue that a strengthened partnership between the two will be beneficial for both in terms of their capability and credibility. China possesses the structural power that the EU no longer enjoys, but the EU, by virtue of its leadership experience, holds the credibility for unilateral and intellectual leadership that China is lacking as an emerging leader. In the latter half of the paper, I extend my application of leadership theory to the leadership role of the EU and China in the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Drawing from the regime effectiveness literature, I suggest approaches for measuring the goal achievement of leaders in implementation. My research shows that leadership by example will be necessary due to the design of the implementation mechanisms, but that measuring goal achievement presents challenges. Illustrative of this, an assessment of the EU and China’s Nationally Determined Contributions demonstrates that they are at best “insufficient” to meet the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. This thesis responds to a gap in the literature on leadership which focuses on regime formation, but not regime implementation. It also contributes towards literature that has begun to understand the role of multiple leadership actors. How the Paris Agreement will ensure successful global action on climate change is a critical question for our generation. It is important that putative climate leaders are held to account for their role in this by the academic community.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International




Law, Peter A. Allard School of