Has The Centralized Environmental Governance Regime Worked in China?

Discussion Paper
1 January 2010

Scholars have suggested that in China centralized environmental policymaking may be decoupled from idiosyncratic local implementation, and thus have questioned the outcomes. This paper fills a gap in the literature on China’s environmental governance by assessing the effects of the centralized regime on outcomes and diagnosing institutional deficiencies along the following three dimensions: structure, penetration to multiple actors in society, and persistence in efforts taken.

Analyses of panel data from the years 1998 to 2005 find the structure of the environmental governance regime associated with both reduced pollution discharge and enhanced pollution treatment, as measured by COD and SO2. However, the measures imposed from the top had limited penetration to polluting industry and had limited effects on pollution control. The good news is that bottom-up efforts taken by the public and industry have largely enhanced pollution treatment, although not associated with reduced pollution discharge. Thus, China faces the challenge to reduce pollution from the source but not to rely on end-of-pipe treatment. It calls for the centralized environmental governance regime to strengthen its penetration to polluters by rigorous enforcement and empowering the public with adequate informational, administrative, and legal means.

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Publication | 10 July 2010