Advancing literature on EU international climate strategy, this article offers a fresh and comprehensive assessment of the EU's international leadership on climate change. Conceptually, it provides a framework for systematic analysis of different facets of exemplary and diplomatic leadership taking into account key framework conditions. Empirically, we trace the achievements and challenges of the EU's climate leadership since the early 1990s, with emphasis on contemporary developments. We find that the EU has successfully adapted its climate leadership to evolving challenges over time. However, intensified climate geopolitics has reinforced demand for the EU to enhance its capabilities for a proactive ‘grand climate strategy’. Grand strategizing would require coordination of EU institutions and EU member states at highest political levels. In addition to facilitating the maintenance of the achievements so far, it could provide for a stronger integration of domestic and international climate policy and across other policy fields and fora.