4.1. Laws Create Windows of Opportunity for Policy Generation
Environmental law creates a window of opportunity for policy generation when the governments wish to invoke their authorities to direct societal behavior towards environment, and to trigger new policy instruments to environmental protection [34
]. By 2016, China has enacted 35 national laws associated with environmental governance, which led to the birth of 319 environmental policies (Figure 4
As Figure 4
displays, the 319 environmental policies distribute unevenly with regard to temporal order. In the socialist period (1972–1978), environmental governance was largely ignored by the central state. The only legal event was the adjustment of the Constitution of China by incorporating environmental protection as the basic national principle, which did not arouse any policy generation.
In 1978, China introduced the economic reform policies. In the economic reform period (1978–2000), this adjustment of the Constitution provided a great momentum to the birth of China’s environmental laws (see Table 1
). Under these laws, environmental policies in this period concentrated on state’s efforts in constructing regulatory framework, only sparsely. China had three categories of policies to control pollution in this period. The first one was the establishment of standards in the form of monitoring techniques of environmental quality and standards for polluting behavior. An important complement to the standards was the requirement of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for urban economic development projects. The second category was the “three synchronizations” policy. The policy stipulated that pollution prevention and control measures should be synchronized with production at three stages (planning, construction and operation) of enterprise activity. The third category was the “total pollutant load control” policy, aiming at formulating the ceiling of total pollutants that can be discharged. This policy was operated by the Emission Permit Approach. The industrial enterprises must register and apply for the emission permits before discharging.
Since 2000, China has experienced rapid economic growth. During this period, environmental policies have no longer only concentrated on the establishment of standards but emphasized the development of market-based and voluntary instruments. The design and implementation of market-based and voluntary approaches are not limited to the environmental agency but associated with many governmental departments including tax, financial, pricing, purchasing agencies in the public sector. These agencies are encouraged to work together to formulate integrated policies. Until now, China has had green government purchase, green credit, green tax, green security and green pricing policies to provide industries with economic incentives (e.g., priority in government purchase and making bank loans, tax reduction, and preferential price for energy consumption) to be clean and green. In addition, some voluntary policies are proposed, including eco-labeling and environmentally friendly certificate, to encourage enterprises to produce clean products.
Despite the substantial efforts of the central state to enact laws, not all of these laws have equal power to bring about new policies. We find the top five most powerful laws in creating windows for the production of new environmental policies (Figure 5
The Environmental Protection Law (formally promulgated in 1989) ranks the first (in terms of out-degree) in generating the largest amount of new policies. It created a policy window for launching 70 Pollutant Discharge Standards (PDSs) in different industries through introducing the issue of environmental standard and putting the standard issue onto government agenda. The second powerful law, the Marine Environmental Protection Law, stipulates the issuance of Marine Pollutant Discharge Standards (MPDSs), which created a window of launching 56 discharge standards for land-based pollutants and coastal engineering projects. The Air Pollution Control Law and the Water Pollution Control Law, ranking third and fourth in out-degree, respectively, gave birth to 57 atmospheric emission standards and several deadline correction policies in water management, especially in inter-basin water areas. The Environmental Impact Assessment Law, at the fifth position, stipulates the design for procedures and methods to implement the assessment, which gave birth to 17 environmental impact assessment plans and approaches in different sectors.
It is apparent to see that the laws with the strongest influential power (i.e., the highest out-degree) and the longest-term effect on policy generation are of a regulatory nature. Laws are rare in stimulating market-based or voluntary instruments. Only in the recent decade, some market and voluntary policies emerge after a few laws are enacted. The Energy Conservation Law and the Circular Economy Promotion Law jointly promote the use of market and financial-based incentives to encourage industries to save energy and adopt clean production process; and this created an opportunity to issue 71 “green” policies, including green tax measures, green government purchase, green electricity price and green bank loans. The Clean Production Promotion Law, on the other hand, promotes industries to spontaneously adopt clean products and processes; this thus created the window for several voluntary policies such as eco-labeling, voluntary agreements on pollution reduction and environmental friendly certificate.
4.2. Policies Activate Actors and Demarcate Issues
A policy usually defines what issues it involves, what it tends to address, and which actors are relevant and responsible for their resolution. Over the past four decades, China’s environmental laws have generated more than three hundred policies on environmental governance. These policies gradually activated actors, pulled them into the system, and demarcated environmental issues among them.
shows “actor–issue” two-mode networks in the years 1980, 1998 and 2016. The figure already reveals that both actors and issues are remarkably increased in environmental governance in China. Only theree actors (SC, MoHURC and NDRC) were active in environmental protection in 1980, dealing with five environmental issues (construction, water, standard, waste and charge). In 1998, there were seven actors (SC, MoHURC, NDRC, MoC, MoF, MoEP and GAQSIQ) that took part in 16 environmental protection issues (including new issues of ecological and natural resource). In 2016, the number of actors that tend to be active increased to 17 (involving new actors from the financing sectors) and the environmental issues touch upon 29 items (fresh issues include, for instance, environmental credit, environmental information disclosure, clean production, and carbon trading).
After new actors and issues are introduced, the central actors and issues in environmental governance have shifted in China. Table 4
reports the top five most central actors and issues in 1980, 1998 and 2016. In 1980, NDRC, SC and MoHURC had relatively equal power in environmental governance, and the most important environmental issue was dealing with pollution from construction projects. In 1998, MoEP and MoF were pulled in and became the most central actors as well as NDRC, SC and MoHURC. The most important issues were no longer limited to construction, but issues of water, waste, charge and standard also came into the foci of environmental governance. In 2016, MoHURC became less important, and PBC was involved and became central in environmental governance. In addition, in relative to peer ministries, MoEP became extremely important in environmental regulation and enforcement. Regarding the issues in this period, coal, energy, natural resource, carbon trading replaced construction, waste and standard, representing the most important issues on government agenda.
Therefore, this developmental trajectory indicates that actors from the financial sector began to be active in environmental governance; traditional bureaucracies gradually withdrew from the central positions; and environmental issues actors concerned shifts from direct regulation to market incentives, and from pollution induced by construction to natural resource protection and energy saving.
4.3. Actors and Issues Build Intentional and Emergent Bridges between Policies
We visualize the intentional and emergent linkages between policies in a three-mode graph (Figure 7
). We observe that the intentional linkages (204 in total) largely exist within the same category of policy instrument. For instance, intentional linkages exist within pricing preferential policies (i.e., market-based instruments) for environmentally friendly enterprises, within environmental impact assessment policies (i.e., regulatory instruments), and within eco-labeling and environmentally friendly product certificate (voluntary instruments). It indicates that the environmental policies primarily develop from the same type of policies that pre-exist. It also indicates that a fragmentation exists between different categories of policy instruments. Regulatory, market and voluntary policies exist side by side, and do not interplay to generate systematic effects. Only three exceptions exist. One is that eco-labeling becomes a condition for the Implementation Advice on Government Procurement (market policy). That means governments only purchase products that are eco-labeled. The second and the third are that the regulatory policies, Coal Energy-Saving and Emission Reduction Action Plan, lead two market-based measures, the Reforms on Coal Resource Tax and the Increase on the Consumption Tax on Refined Oil, respectively.
Looking at the emergent linkages (917 in total), the fragmented policies actually have something in common. Based on the qualitative descriptions of the policy events, we know that the environmental issues do not arise from an overarching plan, but they emerge independently, as key words of the policies that actors formulate. In China, the Energy Saving and Natural Resource issues create emergent relationships between regulatory instruments of total control, market-based incentives on energy saving, and voluntary agreements on energy conservation. The Water issue builds bridges between regulatory policies (water emission standards) and market ones (water pollution charges). The EIA issue links the regulatory environmental impact assessment policies to industrial enterprises’ environmental credit by creating an assessment record. The Coal Use issue bridges the regulatory reduction on coal use with the market-based incentives to reduce coal use.
Regarding the actors, some of them are involved in multiple policies and can act as bridges between policies. Among the top five most central actors, MoEP is involved in regulatory, market and voluntary policies. NDRC and MoF are tied to set the right prices for industries and designing preferential tax incentives on energy saving and natural resource protection and bridge these market policies to the regulatory emission standards. SC often launches guiding policies that do not have indication for the use of particular type of instrument. These guiding policies further bridge regulatory and market-based measures. GAQS is tied to all environmental standards and entirely creates bridges between standards in various industries.