Panel Paper: Regional Environmental Cooperation Networks through Interlocal Agreements in China

Friday, November 9, 2018
Taylor - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Liming Suo and Jie Ma, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China

Local governments around the world are increasingly faced with cross-boundary environmental pollution issues, because fragmentation of policy responsibility creates diseconomies of scale, positive and negative externalities, and common property resource problems.

Instead of resorting to the central government for solutions, network structures themselves are an effort to reduce those transaction costs by developing relationships through social embeddedness (Isett & Provan, 2005). Collaborative networks of multiple stakeholders within and across jurisdictions are an increasingly crucial component of regional environmental governance, which reduce the specific transaction costs that are barriers to collaboration (Lee et al. 2012). Existing study investigated various mechanisms of cooperation among local authorities in China and why they are chosen, through the theoretical lens of Institutional Collective Action (Yi. et al 2017).

In this paper, we focus on the emergence of interlocal agreements network relationships among local governments to address regional environment concerns. This study is based on the Institutional Collective Action Framework to analyze environmental cooperation of 30 cities in the Yangtze River Delta’s urban agglomeration from 2009 to 2015. The ICA framework predicts that the actors will strategically form ties in a manner that reduce the specific transaction costs that are barriers to collaboration (Feiock 2013). When commitment problems impede collaboration, we hypothesize that local actors will seek to form ties that create reciprocal transitive relationships. To the extent that information costs impede collaboration, the actors are hypothesized to form ties with central actors or coordinators who bridge subnetworks. Specific hypotheses are described below.

We hypothesize that the large scale star network structure dominated by a few traditional core cities has a significant influence on the cooperative network, but the effect will gradually weaken over time. We also hypothesize that some of the sub-central cities will become the core nodes of the small scale star structure of the cooperative network. Lastly, we hypothesize that with the weakening of the influence of the star structure on the cooperative network, the reciprocal structure or the closed triangular structure will significantly influence the development of the cooperative network.

From the perspective of dynamic network analysis, we analyze the macro-level environmental cooperative governance through statistical indicators of the overall network in Yangtze River Delta urban agglomeration, and observe the overall network evolutionary trajectory. Furthermore, we analyze the evolution of the Yangtze River Delta cross-regional environmental cooperation governance path at the micro level by identifying the characteristics of the network structure which has significant influence over the management of the environment cooperation network. We conducted a series of Exponential Random Graph Models and regression analyses on the interlocal agreement data.

Preliminary results show that in the Yangtze River Delta urban agglomeration, the loose coordination path centered on the city with higher administrative level and gradually decreased with the promotion of the cooperative governance, but it is still an indispensable pattern in cooperative governance. This study has important policy implications for local environmental governance in China.