Poster Paper: How Do City Governments Localize Global Climate Mitigation Goals? – a Case of the Low-Carbon City Pilot Program in China

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Heyin Chen, Zhilin Liu and Yixin Dai, Tsinghua University

Climate change poses a significant risk for the human society and the natural system. With international collective action largely stalled and nations struggling to fulfill their greenhouse gas reduction commitments, cities are increasingly recognized as better positioned to achieve the congruence of local priority and global sustainability. An emerging literature has sought to identify motivations of local climate policy adoption, though most empirical evidence comes from Western Europe and North America, which are primarily post-industrialized, democratic countries. Relatively little knowledge has been offered with respect to local climate actions adopted by cities in China, which not only is the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter but also faces severe environmental problems in multiple fronts on its own.

The existing literature on China’s environmental policy typically assumed a top-down, authoritarian system in which the central government designs a national framework and decomposes targets down to localities. More recent literature, however, recognized that national efforts are left for local governments to reframe into local priorities. Ignoring this localization logic will lead to insufficient understanding of inter-jurisdictional disparity in pursuing environmental goals such as global climate mitigation. What motivates city governments in China to comply with central climate policies? Why are they willing to engage in the global efforts of climate change mitigation? How do they localize the global climate change with other local agendas?

In 2010, the National Development and Reform Commission in China started a low-carbon city pilot program (LCCP) to stimulate local actions to address global climate change and achieve low-carbon development. Cities selected into this program were required to make and implement a low-carbon city action plan, which offeres a good opportunity to examine how city governments localize global climate mitigation goals.

In this paper, we collected 51 low-carbon city action plans through a combination of online search engine (for publicly released plans) and government information disclosure request. Through content analysis, we examined how city governments understood the global climate change mitigation and adopted it as the organizing concept in the action plan, as well as assessed the quality of the action plans in terms of concrete targets, actions and projects, and policy instruments.

Preliminary results show that, controlling for local socio-economic development, a city with higher level of climate change awareness -i.e using climate change as an organizing concept, as well as analyzing the impacts of climate change in the plans- are more likely to develop a practical plan and improve the overall plan quality, especially in clean energy supply and forestry carbon sinks preservation. While the cities with lower level of climate change awareness are more concerned with the promotion of a sustainable way of production, with an uneven emphasis on the economic sectors such as industrial integration and transformation. Moreover, basis of international cooperation with developed countries would stipulate the low-carbon pilot cities to address the global issues locally and improve plan quality.