Split Enforcement: How Central Local Relations Affect Pollution Law Enforcement in China

Talk by Benjamin van Rooij, UC Irvine

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This paper analyzes how central-local relations shape environmental enforcement in China. It does so by seeking to understand how existing decentralized structures as well as recent trends towards centralization relate to temporal and geographical variation in enforcement since 1999-2011. The paper finds that enforcement over time has become stricter and more frequent, however without yet matching the development of pollution and industry. Moreover it finds a situation of “split enforcement” with richer and more urbanized areas having much stronger and more frequent enforcement than inland areas. Split enforcement points on the one hand to the influence of centralizing influences that may have spurred stronger enforcement, and may also have allowed for an uneven development. At the same time it shows the continued local influence keeping enforcement below pollution needs, and allowing for local inequalities depending on the local level of development. While split enforcement can be rational as a development strategy, eventually it may cause environmental justice problems with the poor living in pollution that the rich create.

Benjamin van Rooij is the John S. and Marilyn Long Professor of U.S.-China Business and Law and director of the UC Irvine Long U.S.-China Institute. His research focuses on implementation of law in comparative perspective. Since 2000 he has studied the implementability of legislation, regulatory law enforcement and compliance, and rights invocation and legal empowerment. A central theme in his work is how implementation of law can be improved in the context of emerging markets where weak enforcement and widespread violations of law create a vicious circle undermining compliance.

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Published: Friday, November 13, 2015