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China's evolving green planning system: Are targets the answer?


  • Kostka, Genia


China's national leaders have recently set ambitious goals to restructure and diversify the economy towards a more resource-efficient and sustainable growth path. To address the growing national environment and energy concerns, leaders introduced several binding environmental targets for government departments and large enterprises. The heavy reliance on a target-based implementation approach raises questions about the effectiveness of this strategy in the short and long run for environmental governance in China. Based on fieldwork in Jiangsu, Hunan, and Shandong provinces in 2012, this paper studies the desirable and undesirable outcomes of binding environmental targets in China's evolving green planning system. This paper argues that environmental targets have a signaling function that has resulted in ecological issues movement onto local governments' core policy agendas. However, in the nascent green planning system, classic planning problems have generated undesirable consequences such that that environmental targets are not always achieving their intended goals. Strategic and cyclical behavior by local government officials in leadership positions often lead to short-term maximization actions instead of long-term innovative environmental management. This analysis of local leaders' responses to top-down targets aims to generate a more realistic picture of what binding environmental targets can and cannot achieve.

Suggested Citation

  • Kostka, Genia, 2013. "China's evolving green planning system: Are targets the answer?," Frankfurt School - Working Paper Series 201, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:fsfmwp:201

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Schreifels, Jeremy J. & Fu, Yale & Wilson, Elizabeth J., 2012. "Sulfur dioxide control in China: policy evolution during the 10th and 11th Five-year Plans and lessons for the future," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 779-789.
    2. Zhang, Daisheng & Aunan, Kristin & Martin Seip, Hans & Vennemo, Haakon, 2011. "The energy intensity target in China's 11th Five-Year Plan period--Local implementation and achievements in Shanxi Province," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(7), pages 4115-4124, July.
    3. Chen Yuyu & Jin Ginger Zhe & Kumar Naresh & Shi Guang, 2012. "Gaming in Air Pollution Data? Lessons from China," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 13(3), pages 1-43, December.
    4. Stavins, Robert N., 2003. "Experience with market-based environmental policy instruments," Handbook of Environmental Economics,in: K. G. Mäler & J. R. Vincent (ed.), Handbook of Environmental Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 9, pages 355-435 Elsevier.
    5. Thomas Heberer & Anja Senz, 2011. "Streamlining Local Behaviour Through Communication, Incentives and Control: A Case Study of Local Environmental Policies in China," Journal of Current Chinese Affairs - China aktuell, Institute of Asian Studies, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg, vol. 40(3), pages 77-112.
    6. Santalco, Aldo, 2012. "How and when China will exceed its renewable energy deployment targets," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 652-661.
    7. Rietbergen, Martijn G. & Blok, Kornelis, 2010. "Setting SMART targets for industrial energy use and industrial energy efficiency," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(8), pages 4339-4354, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kostka, Genia, 2014. "Barriers to the implementation of environmental policies at the local level in China," Policy Research Working Paper Series 7016, The World Bank.

    More about this item


    environmental policy implementation; regulation; command and control instruments; targets; China; authoritarian environmentalism;

    JEL classification:

    • Q48 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Government Policy
    • Q28 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Government Policy
    • Q00 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - General
    • P21 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Systems and Transition Economies - - - Planning, Coordination, and Reform
    • O21 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy - - - Planning Models; Planning Policy
    • R58 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Regional Government Analysis - - - Regional Development Planning and Policy

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