Climate rivalry between secretive autocracy and corrupted democracy

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National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall
National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Image: Climate Home/Remko Tanis/Flickr

COMMENTARY: By Megan Darby, editor of Climate Home News

When it comes to the world’s two biggest emitters, we are caught between a secretive autocracy and an oversharing corrupted democracy.

Most media attention is focused on the latter. The United States this week raised hopes of a compromise climate spending bill and quashed it again before you could say “Joe Manchin is a bad-faith actor”.

Having somebody to blame does not make it any easier to address a system rigged in favour of fossil fuel interests.

At Climate Home, we bypassed that news cycle (come back to us when you’ve achieved something, America!) and took a longer look at the former.

Because the fact that so little climate journalism comes out of China at a certain point becomes newsworthy in itself. And once Chloé Farand started asking around, we knew this story’s time had come.

It has never been easy for journalists and civil society to operate in Xi Jinping’s China. As he looks to secure a third term as president over the coming months, it is harder than ever.

Beijing’s zero-covid policy is, most sources said, no longer just about public health, but a tool of control at a politically sensitive time. Conferences are cancelled indefinitely and travel restricted. Officials up and down the hierarchy are afraid to speak to the media.

Out of six China-based climate reporters who spoke to Climate Home for the article, four had left or were preparing to leave the country.

This is a problem. Not just for the international community, which has an interest in holding China to account for its emissions performance, but for China. In the vacuum, misinformation and Sinophobia flourish.

From the slivers of news that do emerge, we can see that Chinese experts have much to teach the rest of the world. Ok, so they might want to keep their advantage in mass producing solar panels, but when it comes to smart deployment policy, they have every incentive to share tips.

Perhaps they could give US climate campaigners, who are in despair right now, some fresh ideas.

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