The Politico-institutional Influence on Low Carbon Development in Chinese Cities: the Case of Guangzhou

  • Qianqian Wei

Student thesis: Phd


Despite cities have been increasingly tasked with governing a low carbon transition both in academic and policy context, empirical work has so far lacked both a consensus and a sufficient evidence base regarding cities’ roles and capacities in this respect. This research sets out to address this gap by examining the potential of Chinese cities in fastening low carbon development. Using an analytical framework drawing on insights from systemic transition studies, multi-level governance framework, structural-agency theory, and institutional theory, this thesis presents a qualitative case study of a low carbon pilot city in China (Guangzhou). Using data from 32 semi-structured interviews undertaken in 2017 and documentary analysis over the period of 2005 and 2017, the author conducted analysis on three interrelated themes: the dynamics of urban carbon governance; the characteristics of low carbon development; and the nature of politico-institutional influence. Through this, it advances existent understanding of the politico-institutional influence on low carbon development in Chinese cities. This research highlights that Guangzhou’s achievement is a result of the interactions between different governance processes under a series of conditions. However, while Guangzhou has demonstrated its capacity to exert various interventions to deliver binding targets, the level of institutionalisation is arguably insufficient to enable a more transformative transition at city level. Two key arguments emerged from the findings. First, despite rigid standards are problematic given the contested nature of low carbon development, regulative rules beyond the city level are necessary to guarantee local political commitments. Second, informal rules and superficial concern pertaining to carbon reduction among key actors can have a strong influence on actors’ interactions and organisational processes. Therefore, any attempt to speed up low carbon transition needs to pay more attention to normative and cognitive rules because they have the capacity to shape regulatory institutions as well as mediating their influence at city level.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCecilia Wong (Supervisor) & Sotirios Thanos (Supervisor)

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