Clearing the Air: The Role of NGOs in China’s Environmental Transparency Measures


Thursday, November 17, 2011, 12:00pm to 1:00pm


124 Mt. Auburn Street, Suite 2000 South, Cambridge, MA

Yeling Tan, Harvard Kennedy School

About the Seminar

Yeling Tan, a pre-doctoral candidate in the Ph.D. in Public Policy degree program at the Kennedy School of Government, will present her paper titled “Clearing the Air? The Role of NGOs in China’s Environmental Transparency Measures” at a brown bag lunch. Tan will examine the impact of NGOs in using China’s Open Environmental Information measures, focusing on an online database disclosing enterprise pollution, and an index disclosing government performance in environmental transparency. The analysis focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of various accountability channels between state, enterprise and society, and identifies the successful pathways through which change occurs. NGOs have been able to affect environmental governance in clear but marginal ways, when stakeholder incentives have been aligned. This has taken place with MNCs using the online database to monitor Chinese suppliers, and to a lesser extent with local governments responding to the index by engaging more closely with NGOs. However, the impact of NGO actions remains limited. For the environment ministry, enforcement costs remain high in a decentralized bureaucracy. For local governments and enterprises, the cost-benefit calculus depends on government capacity and type, state-enterprise bargaining relations, and internal government interests alignment. The improvements in environmental governance, moreover, do not map directly onto stronger accountability, given China’s authoritarian structure.