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Central–Local Relations: Recentralization and Environmental Governance in China

  • Genia Kostka (a1) and Jonas Nahm (a2)
Abstract

Recent literature on environmental governance in China frequently ascribes blame for China's environmental problems to sub-national governments' lax environmental enforcement. Such research implicitly assumes that more central control would lead to better results but, as yet, the role of the centre in environmental governance remains underresearched. In the context of the current phase of recentralization, this article studies central and local interests, capacities and interactions across policy issues and government agencies. By “bringing the centre back” into the study of central–local relations in China, we examine both where such recentralization has in fact occurred and whether such recentralization efforts have improved environmental outcomes. We argue that centralization does not improve outcomes in every case. Further, central and local levels of governance are not as different as they might seem. Indeed, there are significant areas of overlapping interests and similar patterns of behaviour, both positive (enforcement) and negative (shirking), between central and local administrations. The results draw an empirically and theoretically rich picture of central–local relations that highlights the innate complexity of China's environmental governance patterns during the current phase of recentralization.

近来关于中国环境治理的文献经常将中国的环境问题归咎于地方政府松懈的环保执法。这类研究其实是隐晦地假设越多的中央管控就能带来越好的结果, 但是对中央政府在环境治理中所扮演的角色, 至今仍缺乏足够的研究。在现阶段重新集权化的大背景下, 本文将梳理中央与地方的利益、能力以及在政策问题和政府机构上的相互作用。通过 “将中央重新带回” 关于中国中央–地方关系的研究中, 我们将检视这种重新集权化实际上在哪些地方发生, 以及这种重新集权化的努力是否改善了环保成效。我们认为集权化并不能在每种情况下都改善环保成效。而且, 中央和地方层次的治理并不像看上去那样迥然不同。事实上, 在中央与地方行政部门间, 不管是在积极 (即主动执法) 还是消极 (即推卸责任) 的方面, 都有很多重要领域存在利益重叠, 也有相似的行为模式。我们的研究结果也在实证和理论两方面, 为中央–地方关系勾画了一幅丰富充实的画面, 突出了当前重新集权化阶段下中国环境治理模式中固有的复杂性。

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Corresponding author
Email: jnahm@jhu.edu. (corresponding author).
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