In 1991, Barbara Finamore snuck past Chinese security guards to watch a historic climate conference. The confab’s Beijing Ministerial Declaration on Environment and Development renounced any binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions in the developing world. Finamore, who went on to found the Natural Resources Defense Council’s China Program, has had a front row seat for China’s high-speed growth, leading to cataclysmic pollution—and also its dramatic turnaround on climate, leading to impressive environmental policies. China is still the world’s biggest polluter. But China has emerged as a global leader on climate policy: President Xi Jinping recently announced that China aims to become “carbon neutral” before 2060—a radical proposal that marks the world’s single largest climate commitment to date.
On October 29, the NRDC Senior Strategic Director for Asia reflects on China’s continuing environmental challenges and its ascendance as a global leader on climate.