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Hegemony in Climate Change: The Rivalry Among Superpowers, Who Will Be The Leader US or China?


In the changing world various dynamics has been changed by global threats, political threats, economic situation of the world and many actors. Since the concept of hegemony was invented, scholars defined it diverse and inclueded in the hegemony such as economic power, political power, military power etc. besides hegemonic states have to have following characteristics, ability to lead environmental policies, managing global warming and its threats on the world. Hegemonic states have to rule the whole process because according to Organski hegemonic state would be the father of the world.[1]States have to consider the global warming policies, which direction the world is going to and how environmental policies can be used by a aparatus for national interests and hegemonic stability. In this paper future possibilites will be discussed among superpowers. Who will be next leader? Whose dominance of the world will be exist 2018 and beyond. Those questions will be of vital importance.

In the first part of the work, hegemonic state explanation will be given and its elements will be the main ideas, after explaining the importance of Hegemony for US, we will focus on how she manages the environmental policies around the world in her foreign policy in Obama period. It is important to note that the respectable agreements made during the Obama period and will be foreign policy figures and the main dynamics of the actors that will lead to climate change and global warming. It is clear to see that green theory is one of theories of international relations and states have to act accordance with environment.[2]

In this issue, agreements, conventions, investmens have a considerable role or any action could be critical for enviroment and leadership of the world. There has been considerations about climate change. The comparison between superpowers will be given under a different title and main goal will be to explain how environmental policies of superpowers lead their own hegemonic capacity and how does diplomacy of superpowers take shape through environmental policies?[3]

Lastly, I will discuss the who is going to be next leader of the new world and who takes into account environment during this competition. Prediction about this issue is really difficult and for now we observe the policies and actions of both states

Key words: Climate change, superpowers, hegemony, environmental policies

1. Empirical Evidence

In this section, I will explain the main arguments and main topics, which causes to rivalry between US and China, there are many agreements and investments that both side made during the climate change process. Globalization will be double-edged sword both China and US.[4] The environment will be the beginning of the this new power struggle among hegemonic states. The relations between hegemonic theory and the environment will be explained.

Paris Agreement will be the key event for my topic because it is crucial and must be taken into consideration. From my point of view China began to take the place of US after the agreement. Climate change and environmental policies are becoming more both national and global interest of the states especially for superpowers.[5]

I will explaing the relation between hegemony and environmental policies, how states could be leader of the environmental policies of the world? Which dynamics have a major role in this hegemonic race? What sort of elements do we must address?

Environmental policies of both states will be given in comparison then, the current situation of rivalry will be discussed.

1.1. US Role in Worlwide Environmental Policies

1.1.1. US Role and Its Hegemony

In fact the concept of hegemonic power is hard to explain and understand. The hegemonic state means that a state holding economic military and political power in certain periods. Nowadays global warming and prevention of its effects are included in hegemony concept. Between 1945 and 1990 US were leading to world in political, economic and military way. After the cold war era US policies had to change and with the natural threats the US foreign policy should now focus on and address environmental issues. The concept of hegemony was gaining another element with the increasing problems of the world.

Global warming is not only issue for US or any superpowers it is political instrument to manage the world because superpowers have shaped their policies through environmental issues and policies which had the crucial role for environment of the world. Climate change also requires a global response, encompassing North and South, local and global communities, and the public and private sector. Hegemonic state can manage these actor in world politics because according to Robert Cox hegemonic state has to have three elements; universal norms, universal mechanism and universal institutions, the state provide and encompass global issues with the universal institutions such as United Nations, European Union, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

They can make useful projects incentive through sub-institutions. United Nations have sub-divisions and they have to stimulate the other countries or institutions to create environmental policies and act more conscious. Through the private sector make the state attractive to invest in, while foreign direct investments are important for a country, it will be a big step to make these investments on global climate change and environmental policies.

Hence to lead environment and climate change is the part of the concept of hegemony and they are additional tasks of hegemonic state. In this text the focus will be on the climate change policies during the Obama and Trump period, after the second term of the Obama how china and europe will enter the world stage through environmental policies and compete with US.

Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement, Clear Power Plan, Montreal Protocol are considerable agreements related to US environmental policies in worldwide scale. What type of steps had been taken during the Obama administration, will be the first explanation of the purpose of this text.

1.1.2. US Environmental Policies During Obama Administration

US have led to environmental policies throughout the her history and then in this text we are going to focus on Obama administration how did they manage the climate change policies of the world, after Obama’s term Trump administration and their policy preference about global warming will be discussed. In the last part of this text, agreements, conventions, policies, investments which are made or signed by US will be mentioned.

During the Obama administration, many environmental policies were enacted. Many environmental policies were produced in both domestic and foreign policy.

Ratifying of Kyoto Protocol has been discussed and it was decided to not to sign by US government for the second term. Kyoto Protocol aims that reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, The Kyoto Protocol includes  six greenhouse gases listed in Annex A: Carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous oxide (N2O), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). On the other hand China re-ratified this agreement but US did not sign.

Paris Agreement was the second significant agreements on climate change and aims:[6]

  1. Holding The İncrease İn The Global Average Temperature To Well Below 2°C Above Pre-İndustrial Levels And To Pursue Efforts To Limit The Temperature İncrease To 1.5°C Above Pre-İndustrial Levels, Recognizing That This Would Significantly Reduce The Risks And İmpacts Of Climate Change;
  2. Increasing The Ability To Adapt To The Adverse İmpacts Of Climate Change And Foster Climate Resilience And Low Greenhouse Gas Emissions Development, İn A Manner That Does Not Threaten Food Production;
  3. Making Finance Flows Consistent With A Pathway Towards Low Greenhouse Gas Emissions And Climate-Resilient Development.

On the other hand, The Paris Agreement meant that the US had guided the agreement signed by many states around the world. At that time the United States had seen as the leader of environmental policies in worlwide, but after the Trump had the power, this role would be change.

Obama administration submitted the the U.S. Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) for greenhouse emissions (GHGs) to UNCCC. They committed to reduce carbon emission around 26-28% and it indicates that Obama administration’s goal to convert US economy low-carbon reliance.[7]

1.2. The Role of China in Worldwide Environmental Policies

China is a emerging power in the new international system and it has different structure than US as political, cultural and geographic, which is reason of the importance of environmentel policies of China. With the changing international order the emergence of new powers brings a competition and it is a significant opportunity to boast cooperation and coordination.

Cultural Structure of China is not aimed to being leader of new world, because Chinese traditions tend to become major actor in the world both competition and cooperation. Obviously, rise of China’s power and awareness on environmental policies is not disputable.

China has 4 main principles of its environmental policies:

  1. Rise of renewable energy and make investments on environmental issues.
  2. To become a leader of Paris Agreement and lead to the rest of the world.
  3. To produce and create diverse policies rather than US.
  4. Cooperations

Those main principles of Chinese strategy about climate change is crucial because 4 main principles these 4 policies will determine the potential for China to compete with the US. China also dependent to coal-intensive energy sources but US usually generate energy from oil and gas. This is the one of huge difference between US and China. Chinese energy plans will disable coal use as a energy sources.

1.2.1. Investments / Actions / Agreements and Brief Assessment of China’s Power on Climate Change


Under this title, China’s actions are essential to mention about them, because some datas about the rate of investments are remarkable. China has invested 47% of renewable energy investments worldwide. The propotion of China’s investments on renewable energy increasing, while renewable energy investmenst of US decreasing.

Since US have withdrawn from Paris Agreement, China has assumed the leadership of the climate change process and Chinese government has been creating and taking huge steps on climate change policies of the world. The most serious steps were taken by Chinese after the Paris Agreement, which was aimed to reach below 2° as it was in pre-industrial levels.[9]

The rate of Chinese Environmental Policies is around 126 billion dolars and US have reached only about 40.5 billion dollars. Chinese invesments are three times bigger than US’ investments.[10]

Clean Technica says China plans to spend $ 174 million on hydroelectric and wind energy projects in the next 4 years.[11]

1.2.2 Primary Environmental Policies of China

  • Low-cost renewable energy production, such as advanced photovoltaics, and eventually using full-sustainable and renewable energy-powered cars.
  • China has the one of largest solar panels in the world and it will affect the energy policies of the world with its high-tech. The biggest one is that 1500 megawatt capacity in Tengger Desert plus there is another solar panel, which has 850 megawatt capacity, in Tibeton Plateau next to Longyangxia Dam.
  • Decreasing coal production and using as energy sources.
  • In addition to these fundemental which are mentioned above, China willing to share all this renewable energy productions like ultra high voltage transmission lines, which is based on artifical intelligence.
  • To keep global warming below 2°.

2. Discussion Section

2.1. Evaluation of Competition Between China and US

To manage the competition among superpowers is really hard to evaluate and come to a conclusion, because their policies have always been changing and giving another form of their old policies.

During Obama administration, US’ interests were directed towards green policies. They created Clean Power Plan and became a part of Paris Agreement, which was quite noteworthy step for US foreign policy. Obama administration was aware that hegemony was not contained of 3 elements, which are military, economic and political power, also there was another dynamic that leadership of environmental policies.

After the Trump administration, this tendency was dissolving with Trump’s agresive policies. Nowadays Trump administration just challenge to states, when they stand by their own policies against US. That represented the most consequential diplomatic reversal of the Trump administration.

Furthermore, after the withdrawal of US from Paris Agreement,[12] China had a great oppotunity to rise their own environmental policies all over the world. At the present time China offers to help and connect the whole world with global network, this is a sign of leading on environmental policies in worldwide. According to International Energy Agency solar panel target of China for 2020 has already exceeded.[13] China’s industrial energy saving policies are more stringent than in the United States[14]. US’ ”Better Factories” energu saving project and ”Energy Star” program are voluntary for industries, but in China, Top 10000 Energy-Consuming Enterprises Program is a mandatory for large energy saving.[15]

On the other hand those state have veto right in the Security Council of United Nations, they can  reject each others’ policies about climate change through political sanctions and decisions, because hegemony can provide the basis for environmental leadership.[16] According to this idea just as economically dominant state can use their power in the interest of environmental action.

2.2. 2018 And Beyond, Who Will Be The Next Leader Of Worldwide Environmental Policies?

In 2018, China has been leading to major development of environemental policies against climate change, in the future according to estimations China will rise in the area of prevention of climate change. Both China and US have to reach high level prevention of climate change process through environmental policies by cooperating together and leading the world as two superpowers of the world.[17]

Furthermore, China’s actions are most serious steps forward. US and China will have to consider the prevention of climate change more than before. Green theory will be the key role and actor of foreign policies of superpowers and they need to decide their future policies on climate change. Otherwise the people will have to deal with water, food shortages and it has to be prevented by superpowers and their policies.[18] On the other hand developed countries have to act collectively against climate change as in the Paris Agreement.[19]

According to expectations probably China will be next leader of world on environmental policies and climate change process. Its capability is going high levels and investmensts has been spreading all over the world.


To sum up, this competition will always exist and there will be long cycles[20] like hegemonic cycles, moreover dynamics of hegemonic cycles will always be changed by superpowers of the world in the future. Green theory is a rising theory in international relations[21] and policies will be various and diversity of ideas among superpowers will probably cause to conflicts for leadership of the world.

Economic institutions, political power, military power and also environmental policies will play a major role. Environmental policies has been using as a tool of diplomacy of superpowers since 1974 which is the date of Helsinki Convention.

At the present, hegemony is related to environmental power in order to provide the international order in a different way. Potential plans and applicability of the plans will manifest itself.


Baraniuk, Chris, Journal, Çin’in Dev Güneş Panelleri Dünya Enerjisini nasıl etkiliyor?, published by BBC, 4th September 2018, (Domestic and international investments of China was mentioned in this journal text and some considerable amount of investments was given as a astonishing data.)

Bültenler, 30th August 2017 Wednesday, updated 16:30, (There are some combined news about China and its renewable energy policies:)

Duran, Emre, Çin Yenilenebilir Enerjiye 2017’de ABD’nin 3 Katı Yatırım Yaptı, 21.04.2018, published by Dünya Halleri: (In this website the rate of investments on environmental policies was discussed by author, and remarkable dynamics were being pointed.)

Falkner, Robert, American Hegemony and The Global Environment, International Studies Review, vol: 7, no: 4, 2005, pp. 585-599 (The fundemental relations between hegemony and environment was discussed in this article, veto right and some hegemonic advantages were given in my work.)

Figueres, Christiana and Ivanova, Maria H., Climate Change: National Interest Or a Global Regime? Global Environmental Governance. (Title of this article quite impressive and the issue that how environmental policies take shape as a national interests? Who should act? Who benefits from these actions? Those questions were given from US perspective.)

George Modelski, The Long Cycles of Global Politics and the Nation-State, Cambridge University Press. (Modelski is a father of hegemonic long cycles in world politics, hegemonic states has always been changing, there has been challenging against the current hegemonic state and challenger threats to authority of hegemonic state in the world, these are long cycles and always change during the history.)

Gözen, Ramazan, Uluslararası İlişkiler Teorileri, İletişim Yayınları, pp: 495-507, 2016 Istanbul. (It is simple Theories of International Relations book, summary of each theory could be find in this book in details.)

F.K. Organski, Power Transition, translated by Atilla Arda Beşen & Özen Ayşe Özbasa, 20th May 2017, (Power transition is totally different perspective of hegemonic theories, further
he argues that the existence of the hegemonic state is necessary for peace.)

“Paris Agreement, FCCC/CP/2015/L.9/Rev.1”(PDF). UNFCCC secretariat. Retrieved 12 December 2015. (Original text of Paris Agreement and 3 main principles was mentioned in my work.)

Parlak, Elif, Çin’in Yenilenebilir Enerji Kaynakları, 19th October 2017, published by Yeşil Odak, (There are some rates of China’s investments on renewable energy.)

Pereira, Joana Castro, International System and Environmental Policies, Revista Brasilieira De Politica Internacional, Volume 58 / 1, 2015. (How environment affects to International System as a political tool, I highly recommend this article to readers, who seeks to do research on relations between hegemony and climate change.)

“President’s Budget Draws Clean Energy Funds from Climate Measure “Renewable Energy World. Retrieved, April 2009. (Information of official echo-friendly projects of US Government.)

Sachs, D. Jeffrey, Çin’in Cesur Enerji Vizyonu, published by Dünya, 16th April 2018, (Author is giving crucial datas and policies about the new energy vision of China.)

Sengupta, Somini, US – China Friction Threatens to Undercut the Fight Against Climate Change, 7th December 2018, published by NY Times, (In this article, some cases were given from Obama and Trump administrations and author analyzed policies of Trump era.)

Shue, Henry, Global Environment and International Inequality, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 75, No. 3 (Jul., 1999), pp. 531-545, Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. (Author has given his personal opinions in this article about cooperation and inequality on environmental challenge.)

Räsänen Tuomas, Laakkonen Simo, Cold War and the Environment: The Role of Finland in International Politics in the Baltic Sea Region, published by Springer on behalf of Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, vol: 36 no: 2/3 p. 234 (In this article Helsinki Convention and its history and background were given and the last chapter is important for superpowers diplomacy through environmental policies and issues.)

Tan, Xianchun and Henry Lee. “Comparative Assessment of China and U.S. Policies to Meet Climate Change Targets.” Policy Brief, Environment and Natural Resources Program, Belfer Center, February 2017. (In this work, author pointed out on domestic environmental policies both US and China.)


[1] A.F.K. Organski, Power Transition, translated  by Atilla Arda Beşen & Özen Ayşe Özbasa, by Association of TESA,

[2] Ramazan gözen, Uluslararası İlişkiler Teorileri, İletişim Yayınları, p. 403

[3] Tuomas Räsänen & Simo Laakkonen, Cold War and the Environment: The Role of Finland in International Politics in the Baltic Sea Region, published by Springer on behalf of Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, vol: 36 no: 2/3 p. 234

[4] Joana Castro Pereira, International System and Environmental Policies, Revista Brasilieira De Politica Internacional, Volume 58 / 1, 2015.

[5] Christiana Figueres and Maria H. Ivanova, Climate Change: National Interest Or a Global Regime? Global Environmental Governance.

[6] “Paris Agreement, FCCC/CP/2015/L.9/Rev.1” (PDF). UNFCCC secretariat. Retrieved 12 December 2015.

[7] Fact Sheet: U.S. Reports Its 2025 Emissions Target To The Unfccc”. Whitehouse.Gov. 2015-03-31. Retrieved 2018-11-16.

[8] Bültenler, link:

[9]  Jeffrey D. Sachs, Çin’in Cesur Enerji Vizyonu, Dünya News, 2018,

[10] Emre Duran, Çin Yenilenebilir Enerjiye 2017’de ABD’nin 3 Katı Yatırım Yaptı, 21.04.2018, published by Dünya Halleri:

[11] Elif Parlak, Yeşil Odak, 19th October 2017,

[12] Somini Sengupta, US-China Friction Threatens to Undercut the Fight Against Climate Change, 7th December 2018, published by NY Times,

[13] Chris Baraniuk, Journal, Çin’in Dev Güneş Panelleri Dünya Enerjisini nasıl etkiliyor?, BBC, 4th September 2018,

[14] Xianchun Tan and Henry Lee. “Comparative Assessment of China and U.S. Policies to Meet Climate Change Targets.” Policy Brief, Environment and Natural Resources Program, Belfer Center, February 2017.

[15] Ibid, Xianchun Tan and Henry Lee.

[16] Robert Falkner, American Hegemony and The Global Environment,

[17] Henry Shue, Global Environment and International Inequality, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 75, No. 3

[18] Environmental and Energy Study Institute, The National Security Impacts of Climate Change, December 2017

[19] Ibid, Christiana Figueres and Maria H. Ivanova.

[20] George Modelski, The Long Cycles of Global Politics and the Nation-State, Cambridge University Press

[21] Ramazan Gözen, Uluslararası İlişkiler Teorileri, İletişim Yayınları, pages 497-507

Yazar Hakkında

Atilla Arda Beşen / TESA Siyaset Masası Direktörü / İngilizce – Almanca Çevirmeni

Varşova Üniversitesi

Uluslararası İlişkiler / Yüksek Lisans

İstanbul Üniversitesi

Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararası İlişkiler / Lisans Mezunu

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