Power politics in the revision of China’s Environmental Protection Law

L. Zhang, G. He, A.P.J. Mol, X. Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialAcademicpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Environmental law making, like other legislative processes in China, used to take place behind closed doors. A major innovation in recent years is that it is now normal to consult the public on draft laws, although it is not yet prescribed in the Law on Legislation. It is tempting to interpret the delayed approval of the EPL revision as a double victory: an environmentally unfriendly draft was blocked, and public debate (rather than closed-door secrecy) was a main factor strengthening environmental interests. Three lessons can be drawn from this case of (high) environmental politics in contemporary China. First, notwithstanding all the environmental rhetoric in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011–2015) and the new 2012 constitution of the Communist Party, powerful individuals and organisations in the administration can still impede the building and strengthening of environmental institutions. Greening China is far from an evolutionary process (Mol and Carter 2006). Second, the controversies and political debates around environmental institution building and reform are increasingly moving into the public sphere, which makes it harder for them to be neglected by China's leaders. Whilst ‘authoritarian environmentalism’ (Gilley 2012) does not belong to the past, the institutional landscape of environmental politics is definitely changing and relocating. Third, the wider public and environmental NGOs still play a marginal and indirect role in these more open political debates compared to the party and state organs and scientific experts. But the growing environmental awareness and activism of civil society make Chinese leaders conscious of the significance of their environmental performance in sustaining overall trust and legitimacy (He et al. 2012)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1029-1035
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Politics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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