In a heavily-teased event on Thursday, the president withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement — a universal deal on tackling global warming — claiming the pact hurt American workers, businesses and domestic economic growth. Nearly every country in the world is a signatory of the deal and Trump's decision sparked outrage both at home and abroad.
The news holds significant political capital for the world's second-largest economy as it presents Chinese President Xi Jinping with a chance to boost his country's profile on the global stage.
"America's difficulties are China's opportunities," Greenpeace East Asia's senior global policy officer Li Shuo told CNBC.
The mainland has demonstrated some commitment to environmental reforms through efforts to tackle air pollution and decrease coal usage — national coal output fell 1.7 percent on-year in the first two months of 2017. Still, the carbon-heavy resource remains widely consumed, leaving the Asian giant as the world's largest single emitter of greenhouse gases.
But in the aftermath of Trump's decision, "there is no better time for China to further its climate leadership," Li said. "The country has moved from a climate bad boy at the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, to a cautious leader in the run up to the Paris conference, and now to a country with potential to become a true climate leader in the age of Trump."
The episode has parallels to Trump's exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal earlier this year, which saw China assert itself as a champion of international trade amid a U.S. absence.
Speaking on Thursday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said his country will stand by its Paris obligations, which include lowering the carbon dioxide intensity by 60 to 65 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. China and the European Union have already decided to forge ahead without Washington, according to a statement by EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete, and the issue is expected to feature prominently in Premier Li's discussions with EU officials on Friday.