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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
March 2022
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Creative Common License - CC Creative Common License - BY Creative Common License - NC Creative Common License - ND
This content is Open Access and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

Book description

Why has there been uneven success in reducing air pollution even in the same locality over time? This book offers an innovative theorization of how local political incentives can affect bureaucratic regulation. Using empirical evidence, it examines and compares the control of different air pollutants in China-an autocracy-and, to a lesser extent, Mexico-a democracy. Making use of new data, approaches, and techniques across political science, environmental sciences, and engineering, Shen reveals that local leaders and politicians are incentivized to cater to the policy preferences of their superiors or constituents, respectively, giving rise to varying levels of regulatory stringency during the leaders' tenures. Shen demonstrates that when ambiguity dilutes regulatory effectiveness, having the right incentives and enhanced monitoring is insufficient for successful policy implementation. Vividly explaining key phenomena through anecdotes and personal interviews, this book identifies new causes of air pollution and proposes timely solutions. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.


Joint Winner, 2023 Early Career Research Award, International Public Policy Association


‘How China implements environmental policy is one of the critical questions of our times. Shiran Victoria Shen's book breaks new ground in our understanding through the concept of ‘political regulation waves.' Using an extraordinary blend of on-the-ground interviews, sophisticated quantitative analysis, and other methods, she illustrates the interplay between central and local officials over time and the tradeoffs at play. Not limited to the Chinese context, she shows how her findings have purchase in democracies and authoritarian systems alike.'

Alex Wang - Professor of Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, UCLA School of Law

‘What Victoria Shen has accomplished is extraordinary. Her analysis looks at a key policy area-cum-existential crisis in China - the environment - and crafts an innovative temporal-based argument on variations in policy enforcement that speaks directly to literatures, approaches, and cases far, far afield from China. She establishes her place among the most innovative young scholars working on policy implementation in China today.

Andrew Mertha - George and Sadie Hyman Professor of China Studies and Inaugural Director of the China Global Research Center, Johns Hopkins SAIS

‘While the tradeoffs between improvements in environmental quality and economic growth are well understood for western democracies much less is known about autocracies generally and China in particular. Victoria Shen's new detailed study of China's air quality policy and implementation deepens our understanding of this important topic. Shen merges political science and environmental engineering to show how air quality depends dramatically on the incentives of local politicians.'

Dean Lueck - Professor of Economics and Director of the Program on Natural Resource Governance at the Ostrom Workshop, Indiana University Bloomington

‘Expert warnings about that existential threat that environmental degradation and climate change pose to our way of life has become increasingly more desperate. Scientific solutions are available, but governments have made little progress in implementing them. Shiran Victoria Shen persuasively leverages expertise in the social and physical sciences to demonstrate that a critical political economy issue is that bureaucratic incentives for implementation are not appropriately matched to the specific causes of individual pollutants in authoritarian regimes, particularly China. More broadly, this book is a must read for those interested in a nuanced understanding of bureaucratic politics in authoritarian systems.'

Edmund Malesky - Professor of Political Science and Director of the Duke Center for International Development, Duke University

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Full book PDF
  • The Political Regulation Wave
    pp i-i
  • Additional material
    pp ii-ii
  • Cambridge Studies on Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Governance - Series page
    pp iii-iv
  • Copyright page
    pp vi-vi
  • Dedication
    pp vii-viii
  • Contents
    pp ix-xi
  • Figures
    pp xii-xii
  • Tables
    pp xiii-xiv
  • Preface and Acknowledgments
    pp xv-xvii
  • Abbreviations and Units
    pp xviii-xx
  • 1 - Introduction: An Inconvenient Truth
    pp 1-19
  • 2 - Theory of the Political Regulation Wave
    pp 20-32
  • 3 - Local Governance in China
    pp 33-48
  • 4 - The Case of Sulfur Dioxide Control
    pp 49-60
  • 5 - The Case of Fine Particulate Matter Control
    pp 61-80
  • 6 - The Tradeoffs of the Political Regulation Wave
    pp 81-90
  • 7 - Conclusion: Rethinking Local Governance and Accountability
    pp 91-112
  • Appendix
    pp 113-121
  • References
    pp 122-136
  • Index
    pp 137-142


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