A common notion bandied about today is the idea that India’s and China’s contemporary rise simply represents a return to pre-colonial levels of global economic, political, and cultural power. Scholarship increasingly gestures to the fact that, up until 1750, China, India, and Europe were on parity with each other in these areas, and for many centuries, Europe lagged far behind. Seen in this way, China’s and India’s colonial and postcolonial impoverishment are anomalies rather than long-lasting truths. Beyond the traditional debates about how their rise affects the contemporary Western-centric international system, the countries’ impacts on global energy and climate trends are an understudied area of scholarship. Fuzuo Wu’s comparative study of the two countries’ energy and climate policies powerfully gestures toward the deep and growing dynamics between their actions and the intensifying climate crisis.

The question that drives Wu’s inquiry is straightforward: “what forces have driven China’s and India’s energy and climate politics in general, and their energy and climate diplomacy in particular?” (5). On this point, the book is a success. Wu meticulously analyzes and distills the complex variables driving the countries’ climate and energy policies. She shows that the primary distinction is between the international and domestic realms. In the international realm, she argues, the primary drive for each is the drive to secure its respective status as a great power. Domestically, economic growth is the sine qua non of statecraft (here there is little difference from most states in the West). Both states are also subject to an international system that is asymmetrically interdependent.

Taking both states as rational actors, Wu painstakingly demonstrates that, despite very different domestic political and energy environments, they act identically when trying to minimize their energy insecurity and to be seen as proactive members of the climate governance regime, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Wu fruitfully raises many questions about the future of the international system in a world with a radically different climate than what human civilization has known for the past ten thousand years. Two of these questions are paramount. The first concerns the continued assumption of states as rational actors, even as the climate destabilizes to catastrophic levels. At one point, Wu, reviewing the debate between realists and liberals regarding the primary motivation of state actions—survival or wealth seeking—comes down decisively in favor of the latter. “Simply put, seeking wealth and trying different means to maximize it has become a top priority for states in the international system” (36). Yet we are already witnessing states facing existential threats: more than a thousand square kilometers of arable land turn to desert every year in China and increasing monsoon variability in India, to say nothing of Chennai, a city of 6 million, running out of water completely. One only need consider the ongoing debate over the extent to which climate crisis–induced droughts in Syria beginning in 2010 eventually led to the country’s apocalyptic war. Will wealth and status remain the driving motivations for state actions, as they suffer massive crop die-offs, debilitating droughts and floods, sea level rise, and hundreds of millions of displaced people? On this point, the writing is already on the wall—it will be mildly interesting, to say the least, to watch how mainstream international relations theory adapts to the already existing climate crisis in coming years.

The second question Wu raises is the extent to which multilateralism remains a vital force in international energy and especially climate change policy. If climate change does begin to make states return to considering their survival first and foremost, rather than wealth or status, does the international system turn its back on multilateralism as a framework? Wu argues that China’s and India’s unilateral and bilateral actions are strongly challenging the legitimacy of the UNFCCC’s top-down architecture: “Sino-Indian dynamic coalition strategy under the UNFCCC process … has made it unlikely that a top-down, comprehensive global architecture to address climate change will be forged collectively” (289). One would be hard-pressed to call the nearly thirty-year-old UNFCCC a success; greenhouse gas emissions have risen consistently and robustly, regardless of the many pages of protocols signed and the hundreds of international meetings held. But does this mean that a sovereigntist, “bottom-up” process where states individually choose their climate and energy policies is a better path forward?

Wu’s book is a significant contribution to international relations scholarship on state climate and energy policies, especially in the Global South, giving both a clear picture of how we arrived at the present and clear intimations of where the international system is headed in this brave new world. The policies instituted by India and China over the next five to ten years will be decisive in determining whether the global climate somewhat stabilizes or goes out of control. From this view, the irony of these two countries’ return to global influence and power cementing the destabilization of the global climate is palpable.