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China is outpacing the U.S. when it comes to tackling climate change — here’s how it happened

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China is aiming to become a global climate leader

Since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, the U.S. has stepped back from its international climate commitments by leaving the Paris Agreement and rolling back dozens of Obama-era climate policies, leaving a void in international climate leadership that China aims to fill.

In some ways, the country is well poised for climate leadership. China has become the world's largest manufacturer of solar panels, lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicles. It buys more than half of the world's new electric cars, and nearly all the globe's electric buses.

In September, China's president, Xi Jinping, announced the country's intent to be carbon neutral by 2060, strengthening previous commitments.

But "climate leader" is a complicated designation for a country that also burns more coal than the rest of the world combined. While experts say international pressure could push China to decarbonize more quickly, frayed U.S.-China relations might make climate cooperation difficult for President-elect Joe Biden.

Here's how the U.S. fell behind China in the fight against climate change, and what it means for the future of our planet.