Innovative autocrats? Environmental innovation in public participation in China and Malaysia

Wei Lit Yew*, Zi Zhu*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)


    Much of the environmental policy literature tends to focus on democratic contexts where environmental innovation is a product of pluralistic interactions among state and non-state actors. By bringing the (authoritarian) politics into the analysis, this article seeks to discover the processes leading to environmental innovation under nondemocratic conditions. We utilise case studies in China and then-nondemocratic Malaysia, both grappling with the twin imperatives of rapid development and social control, where the governments initiated environmental innovations to expand space for public participation and monitoring against noxious plants. We adapt the conceptual framework of “environmental innovation strategies” to illustrate the mechanisms underpinning innovative practices that address environmental issues by going beyond pre-existing public regulatory provisions. We highlight aspects distinguishing the interactive processes under authoritarianism. First, the drivers of environmental innovation are contingent on the government's role and concerns over social control and state legitimacy. Second, due to limits over political space, environmental nongovernmental organisations (ENGOs) act as issue entrepreneurs—instead of policy entrepreneurs—who turn conditions into problems deserving government attention and solution, as they engage in conflictual interactions with state authorities. Third, such innovations can strengthen nondemocratic governance while not fully plugging the gaps in existing environmental regulations. This contributes to illuminating the behaviours of state-based environmental innovators under illiberal political regimes, potentially offering lessons to activists on how to stimulate further innovations in such contexts.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)28-35
    Number of pages8
    JournalJournal of Environmental Management
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2019

    User-Defined Keywords

    • Environmental innovation
    • Public participation
    • Authoritarianism
    • NGOs
    • China
    • Malaysia


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