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When it comes to deploying green technologies, China leads the world. The country anticipates installing up to 100 gigawatts of new solar this year — almost double the capacity being added by the US and Europe — and also outpaces the US and EU when it comes to new wind turbines and heat pump installations.

The comparatively slow rollout of green tech elsewhere has fueled doubts about democracies’ ability to respond effectively to climate change. But the idea that top-down centralized governments are better-positioned to rise to the challenge rests on “a very dangerous set of assumptions… not really borne out by experience or history,” says Daniel Fiorino, author of Can Democracy Handle Climate Change? and director of the Center for Environmental Policy at American University, on this week’s episode of Zero. 

The Climate Change Performance Index, which compares the climate records of the largest greenhouse-gas emitting countries, supports Fiorino’s assessment. The majority of the nations ranked in its top half are democracies, with Denmark, Sweden and Chile ranked highest. China ranks near the bottom of the list at 51st, though it’s still ahead of major emitters like the US (52), Australia (55) and Canada (58). 

That doesn’t mean there’s no cause for concern, especially as the climate crisis grows more acute. Conflict and instability, often exacerbated by unchecked climate impacts, “can actually undermine the effectiveness of democratic systems and governments to deal with complex issues,” Fiorino notes, “like climate change.” 

You can listen to the full conversation with Fiorino below, and read a full transcript here. Check out more episodes of Zero, and subscribe on Apple, Spotify and Google to get new episodes each week.


--With assistance from Christine Driscoll.

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