The New Tools of Environmental Governance in China: Top Down Control and Environmental Credit
“… to allow trustworthy people to come and go wherever they like, while making it hard for discredited people to take a single step”. Conseil d’Etat, 2014.
In the early 2010s, extreme environmental degradation in China and its tragic health effects have taken centre stage. Several events have no longer permitted the environmental crisis in the country to be downplayed 1 . All the environmental spheres which were already degraded in the Maoist era are being seriously affected, whether it is water, air, or soil, all warning lights are flashing red. While the water pollution issues which had already been present for years remained less visible, the thick smog affecting many areas of the country revealed the seriousness of the situation. The extent of soil pollution and its effects on food production was exposed when a 2014 government report concluded that 20% of China’s arable land was seriously polluted by heavy metals, leading public authorities to prohibit farmers from cultivating 3.33 million hectares (conversion in acres : 8.23 million acres) of agricultural land— a surface area which is a little more than the size of Belgium 2 . Even though it is difficult to assess the exact consequences in terms of public health, everyone understands that a significant part of the country’s population is exposed to a cocktail of pollutants in the air, water, and food on a daily basis and on an unprecedented scale. There is growing concern among citizens and the expatriate community 3 and the lack of public action now seems to be generating much more discussion. There is growing pressure for publishing more environmental data and for taking action against pollution. Social concern is turning into indignation as the frequent falsification of environmental data, health scandals, and repeated violations of environmental protection laws by public companies with the complicity of local governments are exposed 4 . Faced with protest movements which sometimes turn violent, public authorities have begun to fear the political consequences of the environmental crisis.
This crisis of confidence among the population towards the State is not isolated to the field of environmental protection. The application of national regulations by local governments and state-owned companies has long been a major issue for central authorities. Since the early 2000s, socio-environmental scandals involving local officials and/or public company executives have increased and contributed to discrediting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the eyes of the population 5 . In response to this moral crisis, and in order to regain citizens’ confidence, the Xi Jinping administration, after coming to power in 2012, initiated an ambitious project of modernisation and moralization of Chinese public life in which the social credit system (SCS) is a key element. The first social credit projects in China aimed at modernising the banking sector through the development of financial risk control tools allowing a borrowers’ solvency and integrity to be assessed 6 . What is new with the “Social Credit System Construction Plan Outline (2014-2020)” is that this system goes far beyond the banking sector alone and includes all sectors of society. The social credit project in its new form aims at evaluating the “credibility” and “reliability”, in the broadest sense of the terms, of all actors within society and in all sectors (finance, social, environmental, political, etc.) 7 . The system is designed as a disciplinary tool which can reward or punish companies, organisations, managers in public administration, and individuals depending not only on their compliance with national law and regulations, but also on how virtuous or moral their behaviours are 8 .
The SCS aims at developing control mechanisms throughout the whole country that enable central authorities to reward “trustworthy” behaviours ( those which abide by legal and moral rules) and to punish “untrustworthy” ones (those which infringe upon legal and moral rules). It is also a way for the central government to strengthen the Party’s legitimacy in the eyes of the population by proposing a practical solution to address a structural issue in China: the weakness of local governments and the circumvention of law by local officials 9 . Even though the western media mainly covered the citizen rating system, the SCS for now remains focused on data from institutional and economic sectors.
The SCS is based on several key mechanisms: the collection and sharing of information among the actors involved, the setting up of a labelling system (are the companies honest, reliable, unreliable, dishonest, etc.) and of red and black lists aiming to identify “trustworthy” or “untrustworthy” actors 10 , and the creation of a system of associated penalties aiming to punish “untrustworthy” entities with various disciplinary measures. The system uses both public and private surveillance measures, and therefore involves a wide range of actors (public administrations, courts, banks, public and private companies etc.) at various levels (national, provincial, departmental, municipal) 11 . The SCS is directly related to the “Internet Plus Government” 12 initiative launched in 2015 by Li Keqiang, then Prime Minister, which aimed at expanding the use of digital technology within public institutions in order to facilitate the sharing and exchange of information between the government and citizens as well as between public institutions 13 .
The Corporate Environmental Credit System (CECS) is one of the main subsystems of the SCS aimed at enforcing environmental laws, regulations, and norms by monitoring and sanctioning polluters. Under this system, the central government seeks to address the crisis of public distrust 14 in the regime’s ability to protect people from the effects of pollution 15 . The central government’s difficulties in containing environmental degradation, which are partly due to the local obstructions to implementing Beijing’s decisions, are interpreted as proof of the country’s governance deficiencies and may become a threat to the long-term legitimacy and survival of the Chinese State 16 . And so, the CCP seems intent on regaining control of the situation through a series of measures which demonstrate an evolution in environmental protection governance and which are based on greater transparency of environmental data, strong citizen involvement, widespread surveillance of all relevant actors, and the strengthening of top down control.
The first part of this article will outline the difficulties faced by the central government in enforcing environmental rules. The second and the third parts will then turn to the series of measures and actions that the central government has taken to overcome these difficulties with a focus on the corporate environmental credit system.
Limited progress in environmental protection is often attributed to the bad behaviour of various local actors
The saying “Heaven is high and the Emperor is far away” illustrates the difficulties faced by the Chinese emperor to impose his will on remote provinces and is still frequently used in the country today. Despite increasing the number of pollution limitation targets in the five-year plans, the strengthening of the legislative arsenal, and the repeated calls for the creation of an ecological civilisation in official speeches, the central government still faces difficulties in enforcing environmental protection laws. The fragmented and decentralized nature of the Chinese administrative system often leads to a dilution, if not a distortion, of the policy intent of central leaders and is often blamed for the lack of progress . Even though the central government retains political authority on environmental planning, Chinese law delegates the responsibility for its implementation and reporting of all information necessary to the monitoring of the situation to local authorities 17 . The difficulties encountered also demonstrate the low priority which is still given to environmental protection in comparison with the priority given to sustained economic growth 18 .
Unreliable environmental data
The governance structure and the large number of local authorities pose a serious challenge to the central government in regards to collecting and checking information. In addition to occasional inspection visits, the central government mainly relies on self-reported information to assess the achievement of objectives by local authorities, which leaves room for falsification and misrepresentation.
The lack of resources leads to low-quality local statistics 19 . For instance, in Changchun, a city of 7 million people located in the country’s north-east which covers 350,000 km², energy statistics are only collected for companies over a certain size. Approximately 1,600 companies regularly report statistics on energy consumption to the municipal statistics office; no other data is collected. This parameter only covers about 65% of the city’s total energy consumption. K. Lo quotes a public servant from the municipal statistics office: “There is no random sampling inspection. We simply do not have the resources nor the people to do this. In areas where we have no factual information, we use old census data and other information such as historical trends to help us get an estimate […]. This is why we do not publish energy consumption data in the statistical yearbook. We could not explain the figures if people were to ask” 20 .
Disagreements between the central government, local authorities, and local Party committees also lead to less effective action from the Environmental Protection Bureaus (EPBs). The data collected by these bureaus is often inaccurate or manipulated as local officials have no incentive to find and report the failures of subordinate authorities 21 . Local officials in charge of assessing the achievement of objectives set by the central government have discretionary power to decide when companies are inspected, or the water quality of a lake is tested; they can also choose to use favourable measurement methods or to limit investment in monitoring equipment. Manipulation and falsification of environmental statistics are often reported and discussed within the government, but also within the media 22 .
Finally, central environmental monitoring has long been weak. In 2007, the state agency in charge of environmental protection became a ministry, but it remained short on staff and financial resources. The new Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) has retained a limited authority to intervene in local affairs. The six regional oversight centres, created in 2006 to establish top down control from central authorities to local authorities in charge of applying the law, were often obstructed by local Party committees and provincial governments, in particular during site inspections 23 . In spite of the increased oversight, falsification of data remains common practice 24 .
A fragmented bureaucracy with varied interests
The application of Chinese environmental regulations generally operates under a “double authority” principle: the subnational units of a functional agency not only report to central agencies, but also to the local authorities of the territories in which they operate 25 . The EPBs take their policy directives from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, but their resources — such as the promotion decisions for their staff — are managed by local governments that often have other agendas which are not easily reconciled with environmental protection 26 . Local authorities are therefore responsible for the practical aspects of the application of environmental regulations, including the allocation of resources and the deployment of inspectors 27 .
The local Environmental Protection Bureaus have been traditionally short on human and financial resources while being pressured by local authorities to ignore violations and to reduce fines imposed for environmental pollution. Finally, fees for the emission of pollutants (SO2, NOx, COD, etc), which are often too low to significantly reduce pollution, have frequently been used to finance a large portion of local environmental protection budgets, thus providing little incentive to reduce pollution 28 .
The responsibility of state-owned companies
Leniency among local authorities frequently benefits state-owned companies. The latter are drivers of Chinese state capitalism and are of particular importance to the national economy because they generate a large number of jobs and significantly contribute to achieving assigned growth targets. State companies have a strong presence in heavy industry sectors and are responsible for a large source of Chinese pollution.
Many of these companies have been responsible for a large number of environmental violations and severe pollution incidents. Eaton and Kostka have established a database documenting 2,730 cases of non-compliance by central state companies between 2004 and 2016 29 . China Dialogue has reported several examples of state companies violating regulations and falsifying the data reported to EPBs 30 . For example, the MPE and National Development and Reform Commission have sanctioned 19 of them, including the five major Chinese electricity companies — PetroChina and Shenhua, the largest public coal producer — for falsifying their data on desulphurisation. For most of them, this was not their first violation.
Benefiting from a higher administrative position than regulators, state companies are often treated more leniently than other companies in regard to the application of environmental regulations. In Shandong province, state-owned thermal power plants have frequently breached emission rules but the director of the provincial EPB limited prosecution of these facilities because of their perceived political support. Furthermore, Wang reports that the closure of older facilities by the government mostly concerns private companies, whereas when public companies are involved, the closure order can be combined with various advantages such as loans or administrative authorisations for industrial expansion 31 .
The strengthening of laws and monitoring
The ineffective application of environmental regulations has led to a number of wide-ranging reforms in recent years. The complete revision of the Law on Environmental Protection in 2014 — the first review since 1989 — illustrates the growing importance of environmental issues. After entering into force in 2015, the amended legislation raised certain standards and gave authorities greater ability for the public surveillance of polluters, explicit provisions for dealing with common compliance issues such as illegal discharges, and more power to punish companies and officials responsible for violations, including the falsification of data, by subjecting them to unlimited fines and potential closure.
This legislative development was followed by significant institutional reform in 2018. Until that point, environmental issues had been dealt with by a large number of administrations. The reorganisation of ministries attempted to address this fragmentation of powers. The duties of about fifteen administrations were split between two major ministries. The Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) took charge of environmental protection and the fight against pollution, while the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) took charge of the exploitation and management of natural resources. The MEE staff increased from 300 to 500 employees 32 . Nevertheless, this new workforce remains small compared to the size of China’s territory and the ministry’s range of responsibilities such as environmental monitoring, protection, and the enforcement of related laws, nuclear and radiological safety, as well as the organisation of inspections by central authorities 33 .
Strengthening of top down control
A number of actions have been undertaken to strengthen the top down control of the central government and to overcome the problems stemming from the “double authority” principle 34 . Such was the case for several key bureaucracies over the years; environmental protection was the more recent target of this recentralisation with the creation of Central Environmental Inspection Teams (CEITs) allowing campaign-style actions to ensure compliance with environmental regulations 35 .
CEITs report directly to the central committee and are sent to carry out random checks in areas where there is reason to believe that environmental regulations are not applied, notably in areas where there are many complaints or many comments on social media 36 . Unlike before, inspections now target not only provincial governments, but also provincial Party committees 37 .
Each CEIT consists of about thirty high-ranking officials reporting directly to the CCP. The experts involved are trained on environmental protection issues and do not have prior relationships between them or with anyone in the inspected area and are given extensive powers. At the end of their initial month-long deployment, the CEIT is called back. In the following months, monitoring teams from the CEIT are sent on site to ensure the resolution of identified violations 38 .
A new digital environmental governance
Information disclosure and virtual communication between the State and citizens have become ordinary tools of environmental governance 39 . In China, the central government is increasingly using digital technologies to boost interaction with the population and to support the implementation of a digital environmental governance by local authorities. While the government had been caught off guard by the sudden social demand for the disclosure of PM2.5 measures 40 , it now seems more actively involved in controlling the debate by occupying online spaces, in particular social media such as Weibo, one of the most important social networks in China often referred to as “the Chinese Twitter” 41 .
One of the main goals of this approach is to involve citizens in the surveillance of polluters in order to overcome problems in the reporting of information to the central government. The MEP had already tried to use information disclosure to strengthen the surveillance of local authorities and polluting companies, but the measures remained quite limited 42 . Several decisions since then have considerably expanded the amount of environmental performance data that companies and local authorities must publish. In April 2014, the amended Law on Environmental Protection introduced a specific chapter on information disclosure and public participation 43 . Article 55 stipulates publication obligations that target the main emitters of pollution. This objective is frequently repeated in official speeches and political texts, and the implementing measures are specified. For instance, in a 2016 ministerial decree, the MEP stressed that “discharging entities must disclose relevant information on emissions and consciously accept public supervision” 44 . Environmental policymakers have laid out rules requiring the “real-time” disclosure of pollution data of more than fifteen thousands major emitters in China. The 2016 Law on Air Pollution Prevention and Control further stipulates that major polluters must install and operate an automated air pollution monitoring system, ensure that it is working effectively, and disclose information on emissions in accordance with the law 45 .
In China, the State and society seem to have accepted the disclosure of information as a regulation tool and as an essential instrument to enforce environmental laws and reduce pollution. Environmental regulatory agencies have been among the more active institutions in regard to the disclosure of information and citizen involvement. Government web pages, mailboxes, and online interviews with agents are now common tools of environmental governance 46 . The microblogs created by the EPBs have been promoted as a tool of environmental information disclosure and citizen cooperation to monitor pollution. The emergence of government-run environmental microblogs, WeChat accounts, reporting platforms, and hotlines have greatly stimulated public enthusiasm for contributing to the supervision and the reporting of polluting companies. This practical access to information has also encouraged the public to express its environmental concerns through online movements such as “#pollution” and “#bluesky”. NGOs also play an active part. The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), for instance, is dedicated to collecting, compiling, and analysing environmental information disclosed by the government and by companies in order to create an environmental information database. Citizens now have access to hourly data on air and water quality reported by monitoring stations which can be followed on smartphones and online mapping tools. Information disclosure is also perceived as a way to signal to the people a rational, deliberate, and performance-based governance. These evolutions follow the broader purpose of using electronic administration reforms for more transparency, diligence, and participation 47 .
Nevertheless, the data transparency announced and promoted by Beijing should be approached with caution. Microblogs have been presented as a promising attempt to improve environmental governance by promoting transparency and citizen involvement, but also as a new tool to control the online discourse on environmental issues. Ultimately, there is no strong evidence that EPBs microblogs improve the situation. Falsification of data remains a serious problem and the response to the people’s requests for information remains uneven and sometimes nonexistent. Goron and Bolsover analysed the microblogs set up by 172 local environmental authorities in Shandong province and found that these online spaces are impeded by practices aiming at controlling the online discourse on environmental issues 48 . The flooding of platforms with homogeneous content which echo official discourse and State slogans has been documented, as well as the activity of EPB officials registered as ordinary users 49 . The control of environmental discourse therefore seems to have been considerably tightened in recent years. Citizens who have pressed too hard for information have faced retaliation from the State 50 .
These measures are part of a broader strategy to restructure Chinese internet governance launched during the first two years of President Xi Jinping’s administration. New institutions have been created to centralise governance in a sphere that has until now been fragmented, while the quest for ideological and technological security has resulted in increased efforts to control online information and prevent possible threats, especially from abroad. Information technologies have facilitated interventions, but also government surveillance and control.
The CECS : measuring environmental performance, incentives, and sanctions
Figure 1 • 9 first Indicators composing the corporate environmental credit index
The corporate environmental credit system is one of the key tools in the project of modernizing and improving the integrity of Chinese public life. In the central government’s official documents, the CESC is presented as “an innovative environmental management system” involving public institutions, companies, and citizens 51 . Carried out under the direction of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), this system aims at strengthening control on companies emitting pollutants (air, water, soil) in order to penalize those who do not comply with the standards set by the law. The CCP’s main concern is to regain the confidence of citizens and to address the current moral crisis, which is particularly related to the numerous environmental scandals. The CECS also aims at improving and formalizing the processes for collecting, analysing, and disclosing environmental information so as to strengthen control of polluters. This framework is also combined with other environmental information governance tools developed by the Chinese authorities in recent years. As a subsystem of the SCS, the CECS is based on the creation of a labelling system (are the companies honest, reliable, unreliable, dishonest, etc.) and of red and black lists associated with reward and sanction mechanisms. These lists are based on the corporate environmental credit rating systems.
In 2014, the MPE published a framework document outlining the general principles of the CECS, which were integrated between 2014 and 2020 into the regulatory systems of the various provinces. This national framework document includes in particular the corporate environmental credit assessment index. This index is associated with a specific scoring method based on 19 indicators (cf annex) aiming at monitoring compliance with environmental regulations and laws in the following areas : 1) pollution prevention, 2) natural ecosystems protection, 3) corporate social and environmental responsibility (CSR) 52 . This document does not specify the frequency of inspections. The exact means of inspecting industrial sites and the frequency with which scores are reassessed vary from one province to another.
Each indicator is given a specific weight to calculate the final corporate environmental credit (or score). These indicators notably include information on public complaints and corporate media coverage (falling within the CRS category), which is a way for central authorities to integrate the voice of “the masses” in credit calculation systems. It must be noted, however, that indicators related to public and media participation have a very small weight in the final calculation, 4% and 2% respectively.
Based on this index, companies are divided into four categories. Companies with a green card are included in a “red list” (trustworthy) that gives them access to various advantages (e.g : easier access to credit, reduced frequency of environmental controls, etc.). Companies with a red card are included in a “black list” (untrustworthy) that is made public by local and central authorities. Their environmental scores are then integrated into the general social credit system to which they are attached. “Blacklisted” companies are heavily penalized 53 :
- restrained access to bank credit, public procurement contracts, professional qualification certifications, administrative licences, etc;
- removal of public subsidies and political support ;
- increased frequency of environmental control procedures, etc.
At this time, there is no nationwide corporate environmental credit system, but rather a multitude of provincial and/or municipal systems integrating the general principles enacted by Beijing. Each province must organise itself to develop its own system for collecting and sharing data, for rating and scoring, and for penalizing and rewarding.
This means that each province must develop, under the supervision of central authorities, its own “regulatory forces” by creating cooperation mechanisms between institutions, public agencies, and key companies to improve communication and data sharing amongst institutions.
The highly developed and industrial province of Zhejiang (the fourth richest province in China 54 ), located in the north-east, is often cited as an example in official documents for its implementation of the CECS and, more generally, for the efforts of local authorities on environmental transparency. In this regard, the city of Hangzhou, the economic capital of Zhejiang, has been elected “happiest city in China” 55 for 12 consecutive years for its economic vitality as the city is notably known not only for being home of the headquarters of the Alibaba group, but also for its lifestyle, with the famous Lake of the West located in the heart of the city. Hangzhou is the third richest city in the Yangtze Delta after Shanghai and Suzhou 56 .
The authorities in Zhejiang seem to demonstrate an exemplary implementation of the CECS, with several dedicated websites (controlled by the local office of environment and ecology) giving public access to regularly updated data on the system. At present, this is not the case in any other province.
In January 2020, the Zhejiang government published a document on the functioning of the CECS in the province, presenting its specific scoring system on a 1,000-point scale. In this document, provincial authorities gave precise details on their rating criteria, integrating most of the indicators proposed by central authorities in the framework document published in 2014 by the MEP. Companies can lose between 10 and 400 points, depending on their respect of environmental laws and regulations. This rating, and therefore system of controlling companies, involves both automated mechanisms for real-time assessment of emissions (monitored by equipment for this purpose) and an on-site assessment by local EPB officials which is random (at least once a year) and whose frequency depends both on the credit of the company and on possible complaints from the public. However, , the calculation of environmental scores in the province does not include criteria related to public or media participation, in contrast to the indications — albeit “cosmetic” — recommended at the national level.
In Zhejiang’s system, the environmental credit of the participating entities is divided into five grades, depending on the number of points scored by companies and other environmental assessment organisations :
- Between 1000 and 980 points : grade A (excellent, green card);
- Between 980 and 920 points : grade B (good, blue card);
- Between 920 and 800 points : grade C (medium/fair, yellow card);
- Between 800 and 600 points : grade D (poor, red card);
- Under 600 points : grade E (very poor, black card).
Companies graded A and B are provided rewards and incentives, while companies graded D and E are subject to penalties and disciplinary measures.
While Zhejiang province seems to be a model in terms of implementing the CECS and environmental information governance mechanisms in general, the results obtained by the provincial EPB may be surprising. According to official information, nearly 80% of industrial sites included in the Zhejiang provincial CECS database — 57,312 sites as of 15 April 2021 57 in the whole province since the system’s creation — were graded A, while less than 5% were graded D or E. Yet this data does not seem consistent with the reports of international and Hong Kong-based NGOs (Wateratrisk 58 , Greenpeace 59 , etc.) warning about alarming levels of soil and water pollution. It seems, however, that in terms of air quality, Zhejiang province is doing better than other industrial Chinese provinces. The main air quality institutes and measurement organisations in China (aqicn.org, IPE) indicate that, in comparison with other Chinese provinces, air pollution levels are relatively moderate in this province. But it should be noted that, unlike the heavily polluted provinces of central and northern China such as Shaanxi province, Zhejiang is not a coal-producing region.
Beyond Zhejiang province, the data collected in other provinces on the official websites of local environmental credit systems are also surprising. Indeed, according to official data in Shenzhen for January 2021, 13.3% of audited companies were on the green list, 90% were blue, 7.1% were yellow, and 1.4% were on the black list 60 . In Fuzhou, Fujian Province, 55.47% of companies audited in 2020 were on the green list, 41.4% blue, 1.56% yellow, and 1.56% on the black list 61 .
From one province to another, each system is based on significantly different calculation methods, labelling systems (black list, grade E, etc.), and inspection frequencies, and it is difficult to compare results between provinces. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that provinces which have set up a CECS and publicly disclose their data have particularly high levels of corporate compliance with environmental laws and regulations. However, given the extreme levels of pollution in China, this data may not be representative of the environmental impact of companies in their respective locations. This can be interpreted in a number of ways — either the data is falsified or norms and standards concerning pollutants and the protection of natural ecosystems, which are enshrined in laws and regulations, are insufficient to limit pollution and halt the destruction of ecosystems.
China’s environmental situation has shown a slight improvement in recent years, but this evolution has taken place at the cost of increased surveillance, control, and penalties 62 . Decades of neglect and a laissez-faire attitude did not allow a culture of environmental protection to develop. Given the country’s authoritarian structure, progress in governance does not necessarily lead to increased responsibility 63 . Far from being solved, the environmental crisis might only be improved through generalised digital and human surveillance and authoritarianism. This is what seems to be happening in China. The CCP’s plans for an ecological civilisation gives the central government, including the Ministry of Environment and Ecology, a huge opportunity to expand its surveillance and control system to local authorities and businesses. The CECS allows central authorities to strengthen their influence in the functioning of the regulatory systems of Chinese provinces and large cities. However, the anticipated improvements may take time to materialize. The analysis of the CECS’s first results is very surprising, especially since they are unexpectedly positive: a large majority of companies, including those in heavy industry, report excellent results, which fails to explain the severe environmental degradation in the country.
Appendix • Indicators composing the corporate environmental credit index
- Penalties and administrative orders: 18% ;
- Compliance of levels of air and water pollutants with standards: 15% ;
- Environmental risk management: 10% ;
- Operation of pollution control facilities: 6% ;
- Permitted pollution: 6% ;
- Treatment and disposal of general solid waste: 5% ;
- Standardisation of waste water treatment systems: 5% ;
- Standardised management of dangerous waste: 5% ;
- Prevention of noise pollution: 4% ;
- Complaints from the public: 4% ;
- Information disclosure: 4% ;
- “Ecological protection” of industrial sites: 2% ;
- “Ecological protection” in development and construction: 2% ;
- Spill/pollution notification: 2% ;
- Payment of the tax on pollutant emissions: 2% ;
- Compulsory audits to check depollution and cleaning measures: 3% ;
- Media supervision: 2% ;
- Self-monitoring and transparency: 2% ;
- “Ecological protection” in the use of resources: 1%.
- In 2011 and 2012, the publication of air pollution measurements made by the United States Embassy in Beijing exposed a significant divergence from the measurements made by the Chinese authorities ; this provoked a public outcry in the country’s capital and revealed the insufficiency of the air quality monitoring system as well as an obvious lack of transparency. Since the end of the 2000s, several health scandals have affected the country. In particular, the finding of dangerous levels of heavy metals in certain foods caused a stir among the population: in 2013 for instance, the officials in charge of food safety in Guangzhou found cadmium in several rice samples. In the same period, a wave of cancer affecting villages was discovered. (Y. Li, J. Shapiro, China Goes Green: Coercive Environmentalism for a Troubled Planet, Polity Press, 2020). [ndlr] See in the issue the interview of Y. Li and J. Shapiro with C. Pèlegrin titled “Green Transition in China: At What Cost?”, page 106.
- Reuters Staff, “China says over 3 mln hectares of land too polluted to farm”, Reuters, 2013.
- See for instance: Bloomberg News, “Chinese anger over pollution becomes main cause of social unrest”, March 2013.
- S. Monjon, S. Poncet, La transition écologique en Chine : Mirage ou “Virage vert” ?, Éditions de la rue d’Ulm, 2018.
- S. Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, “Doing things with numbers: Chinese approaches to the Anthropocene”, Int. Commun review, 2018.
- P. Sel, Le crédit social chinois, Politis, 2019.
- F. Liang, V. Das, N. Kostyuk, M. M. Hussain, “Constructing a data-driven society: China’s social credit system as a state surveillance infrastructure”, Policy & Internet, 10(4), 2018.
- P. Sel, op. cit.
- Y. J. Chen, C. F. Lin, H. W. Liu, “Rule of trust: The power and perils of china’s social credit megaproject”, Colum. J. Asian L., 32, 1, 2018.
- Y. J. Chen, C. F. Lin, H. W. Liu, op. cit
- F. Liang, V. Das, N. Kostyuk, M.M Hussain, op. cit.
- This initiative is also called “e-government” or “digital government”.
- P. Velghe, “Reading China, The Internet of Things, Surveillance, and Social Management in the PRC”. China Perspective, 2019.
- The massive diffusion and the great success of the documentary film “Under the Dome” released in 2015 on Chinese websites (150 million views in 3 days) denounces the links between corruption within Chinese administrations and air pollution issues and can be regarded as an emblem of this crisis of public distrust. The documentary film has been quickly censored by the authorities.
- For example see: “ ‘Airpocalypse’ dirties credibility of Chinese government”, South China Morning Post, December 2016.
- A. Wang, “Chinese State Capitalism and the Environment”, UCLA School of Law, Public Law Research Paper, No. 15-52, 2015.
- L. Zhang, A. P. J. Mol, S. Yang, “Environmental Information Disclosure in China: in the Era of Informatization and Big Data”, Frontiers of Law in China, 12, 1, 2017.
- A. Wang, op. cit.
- K. Lo, “How authoritarian is the environmental governance of China?”, Environmental Science & Policy, 54, 2015.
- G. Kostka, “Command without control: The case of China’s environmental target system”, Regulation & Governance, 10, 2016.
- “Chinese companies caught falsifying environmental data”, China Dialogue, 2014.
- R. Li et al., “ Does the Central Environmental Inspection actually work? ”, Journal of Environmental Management, 253, 2020. These supervision centres nevertheless seem to have limited the falsification of data on polluting discharges and to have limited infringements of the law, but at a significant cost. G. Kostla, J. Nahm, “Central-Local Relations: Recentralization and Environmental Governance in China”, The China Quaterly, 231, 2017.
- Reuters Staff, “False emissions reporting undermines China’s pollution fight”, Reuters, 2016 ; Reuters Staff, “China says pollution inspectors find firms falsifying data”, Reuters, 2017.
- B. Van Rooij et al,“Centralizing trends and pollution law enforcement in China”, The China Quaterly, 231, 2017.
- R. Li et al, op. cit.
- C. Xiang, T. van Gevelt, “Central inspection teams and the enforcement of environmental regulations in China”, Environmental Science and Policy, 112, 2020.
- A. Wang, “ Explaining Environmental Information Disclosure in China ”, 44 Ecology Law Quarterly 865, 2018.
- S. Eaton, G. Kostka, “Central Protectionism in China: The “Central SOE Problem” in Environmental Governance”, The China Quarterly, 231, 2017.
- The seriousness of these incidents ranges from procedural violations to major industrial accidents causing serious pollution, injuries and deaths.
- A. Wang, op. cit., 2015.
- T. Voïta, “Xi Jinping’s Institutional Reforms, Environment over Energy?”, Édito Energie, Ifri, October 2018.
- Y. Li, J. Shapiro, op. cit.
- J. Shapiro, “China’s Environmental Challenges”, Polity Press, 2016.
- S. Habich-Sobiegalla, “How Do Central Control Mechanisms Impact Local Water Governance in China?”, Journal of Environmental Management, 253, 2018.
- C. Xiang, T. van Gevelt, op. cit.
- R. Li et al., op. cit.
- K. Jia, S. Chen, “Could campaign-style enforcement improve environmental performance? Evidence from China’s central environmental protection inspection”, Journal of Environmental Management, 245, 2019.
- J. Tan, I. Eguavoen, “Digital environmental governance in China: Information disclosure, pollution control, and environmental activism in the Yellow River Delta”, Water Alternatives, 2017.
- In 2013, during an episode of serious pollution, the data collected by the sensors of the United States Embassy in Beijing were different from the official data published by China. This situation caused trouble and doubt among the population.
- I. Hilton, “Guidance and Transgression: The Contest for Narratives of Environment and Pollution in China”, Commentary, International Journal of Communication 11, 2017.
- B. Van Rooij et al, op. cit.
- Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “Achievements of One Decade: 2018-2019 Annual Report of Pollution Information Transparency Index (PITI) for 120 Cities”, 2019.
- A. Wang, op. cit., 2018.
- IPE, NRDC, op. cit.
- L. Zhang, A. P. J. Mol, S. Yang, op. cit.
- C. Goron, G. Bolsover, “Engagement or control? The impact of the Chinese environmental protection bureaus’ burgeoning online presence in local environmental governance”, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 63 (1), 2020.
- J. Zeng, E. C. Chung, K. E. Fu, “How Social Media Construct “Truth” Around Crisis Events: Weibo’s Rumour Management Strategies After the 2015 Tianjin Blasts”, Policy & Internet, 2017.
- A. Wang, op. cit., 2018.
- Corporate Environmental Credit Evaluation Measures, Ministry of Ecology and Environment China, 2014.
- “Zhejiang among Top 10 Chinese provincial regions with strongest GDP in 2020”, China Daily, February 2021.
- “Hangzhou listed China’s ‘happiest city’”, govt.chinadaily.com, 2018.
- “Investing in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province: China City Spotlight”, China Breafing, 2021.
- F. Hu, “Rivers Flow In Me: Reflections From Zhejiang”, China Water Risk, 2017.
- “A Monstrous Mess: toxic water pollution in China”, Greenpeace, 2014.
- 企业环境信用等级评定结果公告-深圳市生态环境局 (sz.gov.cn)
- 福州市生态环境局关于2020年福州市企业环境信用评价第一批强制评价企业评价结果的公告信用制度生态环境局_福州市鼓楼区政府 (gl.gov.cn)
- [ndlr] See in the issue the article of S. Monjon and L. Boudinet titled “The State of China’s Environment: What Has Changed in the Past Few Years?”, page 117.
- Y. Tan, “Transparency without Democracy: The Unexpected Effects of China’s Environmental Disclosure Policy”, Governance, 2014.
To cite the article
Stéphanie Monjon, Élodie René, The New Tools of Environmental Governance in China: Top Down Control and Environmental Credit, Sep 2021.
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