With its recently published 12th Five-Year Plan (FYP, 2011–2015) China’s leaders have set ambitious national environmental targets and goals for developing a more sustainable economy and society. Past records, however, show that ambitious goals and regulations too often fail due to shortcomings in local implementation and civil society participation. At the sub-national level, economic, political, and social interests continue to dictate the political agenda and the participation of non-state actors remains limited. This article analyses these implementation and participation gaps and reviews recent innovations and experiments to address these gaps in local environmental politics in China. Although many ongoing experiments and new institutional arrangements can be identified, these projects and initiatives remain limited in scope and geographical spread. Further advances in policy enforcement and in opening up policy design to citizens and other non-state actors at the local level are needed in order to turn the article ambitions of the 12th FYP into reality.