The Institutional Framework for China’s Energy Transition

Philip Andrews-Speed (University of Dundee)

Abstract: China’s transition to a low carbon economy through the reform of its energy sector is of critical importance the whole world. By examining the institutions of energy governance in China, this paper identifies a number of key features which are likely to determine the future evolution of its energy sector. At one level lie the embedded institutions which have their roots in more than four thousand years of history and derive from the country’s origin as an hydraulic agrarian regime. These include the preference for conformity, the importance of personal relationships, and attitudes towards truth. The way that natural resources are governed is also coloured by traditional views on the relationship between man and nature, on self-reliance, and on the role of the state. At another level, analysis of the current institutional environment shows how the formal structures government, the Communist Party and the legal system operate in the context of these deeply rooted values to determine policy making and implementation in the energy sector. As a consequence, China’s national energy policy is characterised by continuity and path-dependency and by incremental, unpredictable, short-term adjustments. Although the government’s aptitude for introducing new technologies and undertaking certain types of administrative measure play a positive role in the progress of its low-carbon strategies, many features of the institutions of energy governance may act to constrain this progress.

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