MPIEP No. 28

Leadership by Example in the Implementation Phase of the Paris Agreement: Comparing Current Climate Strategies of the EU, the US and China

Svenja Budde, Arne Niemann


The climate crisis and the fight against it is one of the most complex challenges humanity faces right
now. In situations like this, theory and empirical research on international governance has highlighted
the vital importance of leadership to promote action and cooperation. A closer look at theoretic and
empirical contributions in the field, however, reveals massive research gaps that seriously hamper our
understanding of climate leadership. This paper contributes to closing many of the gaps found. Studying
exemplary leadership in the implementation phase of the Paris Agreement, we use qualitative content
analysis and a thorough conceptualization of an “ideal” climate strategy to analyse and compare current
climate strategies of the three major emitters and leadership candidates: the European Union, the
United States and China. Our analysis unsurprisingly finds the EU the most ambitious actor and potential
exemplary leader among the three, but also reveals that China’s strategy is in various aspects more farreaching than its US counterpart. In addition, our conceptualization of climate leadership and our
analysis provide policy recommendations for improving real-life climate strategies.

Keywords: climate leadership, global governance, European Union, United States, China, climate
strategies, Paris Agreement


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