Authoritarian Environmental Federalism
42 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2017 Last revised: 19 Jul 2018
Date Written: July 5, 2018
We develop a theory to explain the persistence of tensions between decentralized delegation and centralized control of environmental governance in authoritarian regimes. Benefits of decentralization – information, competition, and economic efficiency – conflict with goals of policy harmonization and management of inter-jurisdictional externalities. These persistent tensions between different levels of governance generate a de facto federalism, distinct from traditional models of formally-defined, de jure power-sharing. We test our theory of authoritarian environmental federalism 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 generating capacity. The trajectories of coal-fired power and the integration of renewables into China's power sector have substantial implications for both domestic air pollution and for global climate change. This research has theoretical relevance for understanding environmental politics and governance in autocracies, and practical relevance for understanding China's environmental and energy policies.
Keywords: environmental governance, political economy, subnational actors, China, coal, renewable energy, central-local relations
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