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Centralization or Decentralization? The Impact of Different Distributions of Authority on China's Environmental Regulation

Yang, X. and Yan, J. and Tian, K. and Yu, Z. and Li, R. and Xia, S. (2021) 'Centralization or Decentralization? The Impact of Different Distributions of Authority on China's Environmental Regulation.', Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 173 . p. 121172.


How to balance the central government and local governments’ political authority relating to environmental governance has long been a topic of intense debate in China. Since both environmental and economic regulations are regulatory tools of governments, political authority and systems must be considered in deciding to what extent to empower local governments. Central government needs to find a tradeoff point when being placed under the dual pressure of environmental protection and maintaining the economic growth rate. Based on a two-level principal–agent model, our research compares the effects of centralized and decentralized governance on the efficiency of environmental regulation. Our results suggest that under decentralized environmental governance, the local governments’ incentives increase, which results in either “race to the top” or “race to the bottom” competition in environmental regulation. Moreover, such governance prompts local governments to reduce their investment in economic development and environmental protection. However, decentralization in environmental governance will become more beneficial to the central government if the benefits of reducing information asymmetry surpass enhanced agency costs; otherwise, centralized environmental governance is preferred. Our research proposes a hybrid model of centralized and decentralized environmental governance to help cushion firms against high agency costs and local government–firm collusion.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 10 March 2023.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 4.0.
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:© 2021 This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Date accepted:24 August 2021
Date deposited:16 December 2021
Date of first online publication:10 September 2021
Date first made open access:10 March 2023

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