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Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson visiting the tomb of Dr. Norman Bethune, at the Huabei Martyrs' Cemetery, China, September 7th, 2010. Robertson is related to Bethune.

Gregor Robertson, the Mayor of Vancouver, was disappointingly naive when he said in Shanghai that Chinese policies are greener than those of Western countries because of China's lack of democracy. He may have been carried away by his enthusiasm in leading the Vancouver Green Capital Business Mission, to promote the environmental services of enterprises from his city.

This was no mere slip of the tongue, as he advanced this notion twice in an interview, saying, among other things, "You can question how worthwhile democracy is in a lot of countries right now." The source of the idea may have been Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, who made a similar claim in a speech in Vancouver last year.

Mr. Robertson attributed Western government's caution about "turning the ship around" to fear of losing elections, but China's Communist leaders are no more to be counted on for environmentalism than Western voters.

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It is true that there is a wave of new environmental initiatives in China, such as for electric cars and wind farms, but all this is doing little to reverse China's heavy dependence on coal-fired power generation, or the thick pollution visible over many Chinese cities, the result of high-speed, sometimes reckless industrialization. Twenty-one per cent of the world's carbon emissions come from China, more than any other nation-state.

Moreover, attempts at international climate-change rules have failed, to a large extent because of the position taken by China and other developing countries that they should be allow to emit more than the old-money economies, in order to catch up with them.

Of course, Mr. Robertson's Vision Vancouver party bears little resemblance to the Chinese Communist Party, but remarks such as his about the benefits of Chinese authoritarianism perpetuate harmful ideas like the one in the false legend that Benito Mussolini, when he was the tyrant of Italy, made "the trains run on time."

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