China is a major contributor to global environmental problems and is central to solving them. Its actions have important implications for global environmental governance (GEG). China has become an important global actor in many ways. Given China’s domestic politics and role in international environmental politics in the last decade, our overarching research question is: 
How can we assess and explain China’s roles in international environmental cooperation on climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution / chemicals?

We divide this question into two research topics:

  1. How may we pinpoint and describe China’s role in GEG in terms of various types of leadership roles (various types of leadership/'laggard’/structural power).
  2. What are the major domestic and international drivers accounting for China’s evolving role and ambitions in GEG? 


To address these questions, we examine changes in China’s role over time and compare across these issue areas. We believe that global environmental cooperation could be a suitable arena for practicing leadership because the environment is generally seen as a ‘low-politics’ arena, compared to the ‘high-politics’ associated with foreign policy related to security and trade.

International environmental politics are also linked to key national interests in controlling scarce energy and natural resources and thus to foreign policy ambitions, sometimes with crucial repercussions for poor countries, global security, and world order. While environmental politics is advancing on international agendas the geopolitical situation is becoming increasingly tense, not least between China and the West.

A study of China’s role and behaviour in GEG, with a focus on international environmental negotiations on climate change, biodiversity, and chemicals /pollution, offers avenues for insights in China’s emerging global role. Moreover, it may be a useful prism for understanding the country’s key role in other world order issues. 

Project Period: 2023-2027



  • The Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA)
  • Tsinghua University
  • Peking University
  • Research Council of Norway