The Politics of Renewable Energy in China
: Towards a New Model of Environmental Governance?

  • Chun-Fung Chen

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The use of renewable energy as part of the solution for stabilising global warming has been promoted in industrialised countries for the past three decades. In the last ten years, China, a non-democratic and less-developed state, has implemented non-hydro alternative energy sources through top-down, technology-oriented measures and expanded its renewable energy capacity with unprecedented speed and breadth. This phenomenon seems to contradict to the principle of orthodox environmental governance, in which stakeholder participation is deemed as necessary condition for effective policy outcomes. Given that little research has been conducted on environmental politics in an authoritarian context, I first set out to explore the role of the Chinese state in enabling transformation of the renewable energy sector and to understand the ways in which policy elites seek to introduce developmental state and ecological modernisation strategy in the policy area. Second, by adopting principal-agent theory, I explicate how the governance mechanisms have been deployed and how challenges of the expansion of the sector in the governance system with a large territory have being mitigated. Based upon news reports, policy documents, and interviews with 32 provincial officials, business leaders, academic researchers, and NGO practitioners in two subnational governments, I argue that the renewable energy development in China is governed through a hybrid mode of environmental policy model that uses, upon the existing developmental state regime, ecological modernisation as a policy paradigm, which is partially incorporated in the process. Ultimately, I examine in this thesis the possibility of an alternative form of environmental governance in which renewable energy can be diffused in a less-participatory manner, with more direct controls and target-oriented state intervention measures. This thesis challenges the orthodox assumption that the inclusive mode of governance are the only capable form of environmental governance that reaches desired policy outcomes of renewable energy deployment.
Date of Award7 May 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorCharles Lees (Supervisor) & Ingolfur Bluhdorn (Supervisor)


  • Politics of global warming
  • China
  • Participation
  • Decentralisation
  • Renewable energy
  • Solar energy
  • Local governance
  • Governance
  • Developmental state
  • State intervention
  • Ecological modernisation
  • Environmental governance
  • Wind power
  • Principal–agent theory
  • Central-local government relations
  • Rational choice institutionalism

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