China has assumed a crucial importance in debates about climate change mitigation. On the one hand, China is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses and pollution. On the other, it has invested more in renewable energy than any other country and is making real efforts to address the consequences of rapid industrialisation. There are three key questions for students of comparative political economy that emerge from the Chinese experience: first, what is the relationship between economic development and authoritarian rule? Second, what role has China’s distinct social and political system played in creating and addressing environmental problems? Third, what domestic and international implications does the ‘China model’ have? In short, will China’s authoritarian leaders be able to manage the expectations of its own people and those of the so-called international community? This article considers the often paradoxical and contradictory nature of the authoritarian Chinese government’s current environmental policies and suggests that while they may have some success at the domestic level, they may still be an obstacle to international cooperation.