2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 78

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Innovations and Diversification in China's Local Environmental Politics

Organizer: Genia Kostka, Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, Germany

Chair: Lynette H. Ong, University of Toronto, Canada

Discussant: Lynette H. Ong, University of Toronto, Canada

With its recently published 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) China’s leaders have set ambitious national environmental targets and goals for developing a more sustainable economy and society. Past records, however, show that ambitious goals and regulations too often fail due to shortcomings in local implementation and civil society participation. At the sub-national level, economic, political, and social interests continue to dictate the political agenda and the participation of non-state actors remains limited. This panel analyses these implementation and participation gaps and reviews recent innovations and experiments to address these gaps in local environmental politics in China. Although many ongoing experiments and new institutional arrangements can be identified, these projects and initiatives remain limited in scope and geographical spreading. Further advances in policy enforcements and in opening up policy design to citizens and non-state actors at the local level are needed in order to turn the paper ambitions of the 12th Five-Year Plan into reality. Drawing on findings derived from extensive fieldwork, household surveys, and documentary research, the panel papers highlight the high degree of variation in local environmental politics, with respect to both regions and environmental subject areas. The key contribution of this panel is in focussing clearly on the behaviour of citizens, NGOs, local governments in China’s local environmental policy. In doing so the papers go beyond showing the shortcomings of local implementation by also drawing attention to the innovativeness of these local agents in developing solutions to environmental implementation and participation challenges in China.

Perverse Incentive Structure in China’s Environmental Politics: How the Local Governments Were Encouraged to Produce Environmental Policies Implementation Gaps
Ran Ran, Renmin University of China, China

The obvious paradox in China’s environmental politics is the big gap between the central government’s policies and its implementation outcome at local levels. Existing literatures agree that Environmental Policies Implementation Gap (EPIG) is one of the biggest obstacles to environmental governance in China. However, the controversial question is which level of government has been more responsible for the generating of various degrees of EPIGs at local levels, and therefore should make more efforts to clean up China’s polluted environment? This article tries to answer this question by examining the impacts of the incentive structure set by the central authority on the EPIG at local levels in China. Drawn from fieldwork in three cities and documentary analysis, this article argues that the incentive of environmental polices implementation at local levels set by the central government is perversely structured, meaning that the central government provides much more incentives for local government’s non-implementation or poor implementation than full implementation of its environmental policies. The central government’s failure to encourage---politically, financially as well as morally--- local government officials to appropriately implement environmental policies can partly explain the production of “EPIG” at the local level in China. The EPIGs could hardly be overcome by efforts at the local level, unless the central government takes significant measures to address the perverse incentive structure embedded in the overall structure of China’s environmental politics. In this perspective, the central government, rather than local governments, should be more responsible for addressing the EPIGs and clean up China’s environment.

Does Cadre Turnover Help or Hinder China’s Green Rise? Evidence from Shanxi Province
Genia Kostka, Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, Germany

China’s national leaders see restructuring and diversification away from resource-based, energy intensive industries as key goals in the coming years. This paper argues that the high turnover of leading cadres at the local level may hinder state-led greening growth initiatives. The cadre rotation system keeps local Party secretaries and mayors on the move in order to curb both factionalism and corruption in the localities. Yet, with average term lengths of between three and four years, high cadre turnover effectively disincentivizes local leaders from taking on comprehensive restructuring, a costly, complex and lengthy process. On the basis of extensive fieldwork in Shanxi province during 2010 and 2011, the paper highlights the significance of leadership continuity for China’s green growth ambitions.

Local Anti-incineration Campaigns in China
Thomas Johnson, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Waste incineration is often a highly contentious issue. Although most studies have focused on western countries, municipal solid waste (MSW) management has become an extremely pressing issue in China due to rapid urbanisation and changing consumption patterns. Incineration is being strongly promoted by government officials, yet this has resulted in strong societal opposition. Through documentary analysis and in-depth stakeholder interviews this article analyses three anti-incineration campaigns in Beijing, focusing on outcomes and campaigner strategies. Anti-incineration campaigns have partly undermined the government’s top-down, non-consultative approach to waste management. In developing an ‘expert strategy’, campaigners have exploited government weakness whilst depoliticising the issue. Yet rather than lead to a more open and consultative incineration policy that would focus on narrowing the existing participation gap, it is more likely that officials will circumvent unrest through increasing opacity and by choosing incinerator sites in more remote locations where opposition is less likely to emerge.

From Complainer, Protestor to Participant?: A Study of Public Participation in Local Environmental Protection in Guangdong
Fengshi Wu, Nanyang Technological University, Hong Kong

(Paper co-authored with: Fang Xiang & Peng Minggang) There are various forms of public involvement in environmental protection in China even before the recent reforms in environmental governance, exemplified by filing complaints, collective protesting and blocking the polluting factories. Despite the increasing governmental effort in promoting “public participation” via official channels, it is not clear that conventional means for environmental justice will be replaced by the new ones that the government aims at. The paper is to map out main types of public participation in environmental protection and search for main institutional factors that are closely associated and have affected the public’s choice of ways to prevent pollution in their own communities. The main empirical evidence in the paper is from the Guangdong province and based on a combination of research methods including structured interviews, in-depth case studies, and participatory field work in the past two years. Guangdong offers a wide range of different cases of public participation in pollution control and nature conservation, which allows the researchers to explore and test potentially key institutional arrangements that have shaped the overall patterns of the public’s willingness, or lack of it, to be part of the government led environmental impact assessment process.