China is struggling between accelerating environmental protection and accelerating environmental damage. Although the central government is investing extensively in environmental laws and policies, China’s annual environmental goals have hardly been achieved. What is often poorly recognized by top decision-makers is that the environmental governance system is so complex that multiple elements, including laws, policy items, actors and issues, have become intentionally or emergently entangled. Without knowing the roles, positions and interconnections of the system elements, it is difficult for people to find the critical points for further improvements. Taking this challenge, this research conducts a retrospective analysis on the developmental trajectory of China’s environmental governance. The analysis helps us to pinpoint the role of law, the position of actor, and the linkage of policy that promote or prevent environmental protection; it can also question or reaffirm the effectiveness of the environmental laws and policies, and thereby aid China’s future prognosis and some recommendations.
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