All Climate is Local: How Provincial Preferences Undermine China's Coal Commitments
34 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2017
Date Written: April 4, 2017
We argue that the preferences of subnational political entities are important determinants of states’ abilities to meet commitments to international agreements. In the case of China, even as the central government tries to reduce pollution and carbon emissions, provincial government officials and commercial firms prioritize economic growth and tax revenue, hindering national objectives. The reality of contested implementation challenges arguments of an ‘autocratic advantage’ in exercising policy change or in ensuring domestic compliance. We analyze the construction of coal-fired power plants in China, leveraging decentralization of the approval process from central agencies to provincial bureaus in March 2015, to show how local governments capitalized on their newly endowed authority to substantially increase the number of new coal plants. This article illustrates how the Chinese government attempts to juggle international and domestic priorities regarding climate change, and points to the importance of an understudied group of actors – subnational polities – in determining national capacity to meet international commitments. We extend research on central-local relations in China to the realm of international climate change, and contribute to literature on the domestic determinants of international cooperation.
Keywords: China, Climate Change, Coal, Central-Local Relations, Political Incentives, Subnational Actors, State-Owned Enterprises
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