Paris is just the start, not the end of the process to tackle climate change. But the seriousness with which China along with the US is taking this year's talks shows that there are clearly grounds for hope.

When I first visited the Chinese city of Chongqing in 2006, the smog was so bad that the street below was barely visible from the window of my high-rise hotel room. China's extraordinary growth – unprecedented in scale and pace in human history – has left a legacy of appalling environmental degradation. Now the pollution that envelops its major cities has been vividly dramatised in Under the Dome, a 105-minute documentary which was watched by 100 million people on the Chinese version of YouTube in its first day alone. The film features footage of dead fish in rivers, factories belching smoke and hospital scenes with patients suffering from cancer, and is being compared in the western media to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. It was made by Chai Jing, an investigative journalist whose infant daughter developed a benign tumour in the womb, which Ms Chai blames on air pollution.

The film was originally given the covert blessing of the Chinese authorities, but its runaway success has caused them to curb their enthusiasm and it has now been taken off the front pages of major outlets. However, it was praised last weekend by China's new environmental protection minister, Chen Jining, a respected academic from Tsinghua University who obtained his PhD in civil and environmental engineering from Imperial College. His lack of political experience may prove a blessing in this instance, allowing him to distance himself from the failures of his predecessor (who presided over a number of environmental scandals, and infamously noted on one occasion that his ministry was one of the four worst in the world).

The fight against air pollution is also proving a political catalyst for China's investment in renewable energy, which in turn is driving optimism for a global climate deal at the Paris conference in December. At IPPR this morning, we hosted Professor Qi Ye, one of the most influential experts on Chinese energy and climate change policy and lead author of an important annual report analysing how China is balancing its economic growth and environmental challenges. The event was ably chaired by Sir David King, the foreign secretary's special representation on global climate change and former UK chief scientist, and is available to watch in full on our website.

The conversation was generally upbeat, and optimistic about the prospects of reaching a global deal. Professor Qi explained how China's joint announcement with the United States in November 2014, which outlined that the carbon emissions of the world's largest emitter would peak by 2030, should not be seen as inflexible. Indeed, he said he was optimistic that emissions could peak far sooner, and explained how coal use in China fell by 2.9 per cent last year.

But, as Sir David King stressed, Paris is just the start, not the end of the process to tackle climate change. Fulfilling existing commitments by China, the US, the EU and others would still see the world miss its target to limit climate change to 2??C, so further commitments will be needed beyond this year's UN meeting. Contentious agenda items will include the details of how much finance developed countries will give to the developing world for the roll-out of clean technology. Nevertheless, the seriousness with which China along with the US is taking this year's talks, and the diplomatic charm offensive being undertaken by Professor Qi – who came to IPPR from Brussels and on his way to Paris – show that there are clearly grounds for hope.