environmental governance

By Paul Davies, Bridget Reineking, and Andrew Westgate

President Xi has announced the creation of a new environmental bureau to oversee China’s state-owned natural resources. Establishment of the new bureau is one of the most notable outcomes of the recent meeting of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party, and follows Xi’s pronouncement that building an “ecological civilization” in his country is necessary for the continued development of the Chinese people.

Currently, China’s natural resources are administered by a set of localized bureaus, which oversee natural resource assets without a centralized national monitor. Local governments are responsible for staffing and funding these bureaus, so economic agendas and industrial development have directed local environmental efforts for years. Frequently, local governments have stripped the protection bureaus of the ability to impose penalties or otherwise enforce environmental compliance measures. And even if the bureaus receive staff and funding, regional and local needs are generally at odds, often causing untimely and frustrating backlogs regarding the uses of resources and land. Without national coordination, even the best-intentioned regulators working for these bureaus have struggled to implement environmental policies.