As nations jockey for position ahead of next month’s UN climate talks, the most significant of its kind since the Paris accord was sealed three years ago, negotiators are beating a path in a new direction: to Beijing.  China has emerged as the powerbroker in global climate talks, helping fill a leadership vacuum created by Donald Trump’s decision last year to pull the US out of the international agreement. For the first time, China is hosting many of the preparatory meetings that are crucial for setting the direction of the Cop 24 summit, taking place in the city of Katowice, Poland.

The role reversal is all the more surprising because Beijing for many years shunned a leadership role in climate talks. Worryingly for countries that used to rely on Washington to push for a strong climate agreement, Beijing’s influence could steer the Paris agreement toward a slower pace of climate action, with more flexible rules for developing countries. “China has a critical leadership role to play in Katowice,” said Laurence Tubiana, chief executive of the European Climate Foundation think-tank and one of the architects of the Paris accord.

“The big question is ‘which China will turn up?’ We know the leadership in Beijing supports the Paris agreement . . . it needs to help deliver a strong set of rules and re-direct finance away from coal.”