China Needs More Democracy To Go Green

solar china ladies

Last week Thomas Friedman said China’s authoritarian, top-down government, can be great for getting enviromental goals pushed through.

Friedman couldn’t be more wrong, says Bruce Gilley in the Wall Street Journal. China would get more green goals implemented if the country were even more democratic.

China’s local municipalities are focused on growth and prosperity. If a “green” technology can provide both, then the municipality will implement it. For instance, the city of Shenyang has open policy discussions, and it has some of the cleanest air:

Better yet would be to open up political space at the local level so that citizens and advocacy groups can create a public consensus on the need for action. While Beijing talks about “public participation” in its response to climate change, so far that has meant mainly authoritarian-style efforts to educate the public and encourage greater obedience. In a few places, however, citizens and groups have been brought into the making of policy. The northeastern city of Shenyang, for instance, has been experimenting with participatory approaches to environmental policy since passing a law in 2005 under which citizens must be included in the making of all environmental laws. So far, this has meant mainly public consultations on laws, but the city also tolerates an active community of environmental nongovernmental organisations. One result: its air quality has improved faster than almost any other similar city in China.

Another approach being considered is meetings of representative groups of citizens who deliberate on the best policy approach and then deliver their findings as binding policy mandates to the government concerned known in China as minzhu kentanhui or “sincere democratic forums.” In China, experiments with this system, mainly in the city of Wenling in Zhejiang province, have demonstrated that Chinese citizens place a high priority on environmental protection when asked to rank different government projects. In one forum in Wenling in 2005, citizens selected six environmental protection projects among the top 10 projects they wanted the government to fund.

Deliberation not only expands information but also expands the sense of common responsibility on which the willingness to embrace potentially costly carbon emission programs depends. If Beijing were to start targeting environmental performance in cadre promotions and expand political freedoms that would generate social pressures, more local governments would have an incentive to embrace this bottom-up approach to emissions control.

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