Climate experimentation and the limits of top-down control: local variation of climate pilots in China

Tek Sheng Kevin LO, He Li*, Kang Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


The Low-Carbon Pilot (LCP) program in China is an important national initiative aiming to facilitate climate experimentation. Thus far, 87 local governments have become climate pilots and are tasked with developing innovative climate solutions with the hope that these innovations can be applied nationally. The LCP adopts a uniquely Chinese approach to policymaking that is characterized by both bottom-up experimentation and top-down control and has been described as a success in the official discourse. However, using two case studies from Guangdong and Jilin, we show that there could be significant variation in performance and willingness to conduct experimentation among the climate pilots. The presence of variation suggests that the top-down steering mechanisms of the LCP are not conducive to climate experimentation and have the unintended consequences of encouraging risk-averse behaviors. We further show that local factors–leadership support, communities of practice, and alignment of interests–are important factors enabling success.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-126
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Environmental Planning and Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Fluid Flow and Transfer Processes
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

User-Defined Keywords

  • authoritarian governance
  • China
  • climate experimentation
  • climate pilots
  • Low-Carbon Pilot


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