This month has seen the return of climate change to the global top table with the world’s three biggest carbon emitters – China, the United States and European Union – all engaged in intense diplomatic efforts ahead of Joe Biden’s Earth Day summit last week . The US President’s special envoy John Kerry travelled to five Asian countries this month in a bid to prod China and other major polluters, including India and South Korea, into making fresh commitments. Following Washington’s return to the Paris accord in February, this shuttle diplomacy is another sign that Biden is delivering on his promises to reassert American leadership. Most of the headlines focused on a rare joint statement between Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua, which emphasised their willingness to cooperate on climate issues . Although China fell short of setting ambitious new targets, the statement itself and the fact that the word “cooperation” was mentioned seven times in variant forms were widely hailed as a breakthrough. Climate negotiators certainly deserve credit as it is probably the first written agreement between the rival powers in months since the phase one trade deal in late 2019. What does China’s carbon-neutrality push mean for its biggest coal producers? But pledges on climate cooperation, however well-intended and promising they may sound, will be hard to translate into action on the ground, considering the intense bickering between Beijing and the Biden administration . To understand what is in store for the future of the global climate fight, it is vitally important to examine the role of the EU in international climate politics and the US-China rivalry in particular. As the EU strives to reach net zero emissions by 2050, it has maintained ties with both China and the US on climate change and tried to avoid picking sides. In fact, both Beijing and Washington have lessons to learn from Brussels on how to deal with their increasingly complex relations. Although the EU has designated China as a systemic rival and confronted Beijing when its fundamental values are at stake over issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong, it still treats China as a partner on trade and climate change. Despite Washington’s pressure, Brussels has so far stopped confrontation dominating its entire relationship with Beijing. Having said that, the EU’s insistence on its autonomy and multipronged strategy towards China has prompted accusations of inconsistency and double standards. It risked souring ties with the incoming Biden administration when it pushed through a bilateral investment deal with China in December. Just days before Biden’s climate summit, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel convened three-way climate talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a move some analysts interpreted as undercutting Washington. China’s Belt and Road projects face climate change challenges As China becomes increasingly assertive and its leaders feel under siege faced with accusations over the origins of Covid-19 and the looming prospect of a new cold war, the EU’s delicate balancing act becomes ever more precarious. With China turning itself from a laggard to a global leader , it will have to play its climate card carefully and avoid making enemies. To begin with, it is time for Beijing to show flexibility and understanding of the dilemma the EU faces – and accept the increasing complexity of a relationship that could simultaneously involve cooperation and confrontation.