Authoritarian Energy Transitions Undermined? Environmental Governance Cycles in China’s Power Sector
38 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2017 Last revised: 6 May 2020
Date Written: March 26, 2020
We develop a theory to explain the persistence of tensions between decentralized delegation and centralized control of environmental governance in authoritarian regimes. Economic benefits from decentralization – information, competition, and efficiency – conflict with environmental goals of centralized policy harmonization and management of inter-jurisdictional externalities. Decentralization to local government actors can facilitate economic growth but also empower them in ways that undermine environmental governance. Persistent tensions between decentralized and centralized imperatives generate cycles in environmental and energy systems governance. We test our theory of authoritarian environmental governance cycles using the case of China’s power sector, drawing on evidence from primary source documents, field interviews, and multiple data sources on the development and distribution of energy generating capacity. We focus on two policy areas – coal-fired power and wind energy – that are integral to central government efforts to improve the quality of environmental governance. This research explains the puzzling alternations in the locus of governance, and contributes to understanding inter-governmental relations and environmental politics in authoritarian regimes.
Keywords: environmental governance, political economy, subnational actors, China, coal, renewable energy, central-local relations
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