How authoritarian is the environmental governance of China?

Tek Sheng Kevin LO*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

146 Citations (Scopus)


This paper challenges the prevailing perception that the environmental governance of China is a case exemplar of authoritarian environmentalism. Using low-carbon governance as an example, it shows that although China's national low-carbon policy appears highly authoritarian, the situation on the ground is much more ambiguous, displaying a mixture of authoritarian and liberal features. While China's top-down and non-participatory policy environment has been crucial in stimulating a low-carbon transition, the failure of the central government to control local actors has created a situation of de facto neoliberal environmentalism, where local governments and energy-intensive enterprises enjoy a high degree of freedom and flexibility to manage their own energy consumption in spite of the overt authoritarian rule. The findings of this research show that viewing China's environmental governance as a clear-cut instance of authoritarian environmentalism should be done with circumspection, and that studying the nature of environmental governance as a complex process requires a thorough understanding of not just national policy but also local politics and the ways the two are connected.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-159
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

User-Defined Keywords

  • Authoritarian environmentalism
  • China
  • Environmental governance
  • Low-carbon governance


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