Regional Governance and Institutional Collective Action for Environmental Sustainability in China
Over the past decade, Chinese local governments have adopted numerous innovations to address pressing social, economic, and environmental concerns. Realizing the limitations of unilateral actions, local governments increasingly rely on inter-local collaborations to address these issues at a regional level. Nevertheless, the theoretical and empirical study of regional collaborations in China has lagged behind practice. This research begins to fill this lacuna through a systematic investigation of the types of collaboration agreements employed to deal with regional environmental problems, and how and when they are applied. Following an overview of inter-local collaboration in China, the institutional collective action (ICA) framework is introduced and modified for the Chinese context. Three separate empirical analyses then apply this modified framework to describe and explain the forms of inter-local collaboration.
The first empirical analysis focuses on the multi-level influences on inter-city collaboration in China. It examines how cities’ characteristics and provincial involvements influence city governments’ decision to join inter-local collaborative agreements. The results demonstrate that both provincial-level and city-level demand and supply factors influence the number of collaboration agreements that a city joins. In the second empirical analysis, three in-depth case analyses provide example of the different mechanisms of inter-local cooperation agreements. These cases are drawn from three different regions of China. The third set of empirical analyses focuses on the emergence and intuitional forms of environmental collaboration agreements and investigates how the nature of the problem situation, the interests of affected actors, and existing relationships and institutions shape the design of inter-local collaboration agreements.
The conclusion reaffirms the usefulness of the ICA framework for understanding inter-local collaborations in China. The analyses presented here suggest that informal and formal agreements are sometimes less than voluntary in China. If local actors enter into agreements because they feel strong pressure to conform to the expectations of the national or provincial government, or they anticipate that a less desirable alternative will be imposed if they do not collaborate with neighboring governments, it constitutes self-constraint. It is anticipated that future research will further investigate these issues.