Risk, Resilience, Inequality and Environmental Law
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Risk, Resilience, Inequality and Environmental Law

Edited by Bridget M. Hutter

This insightful book considers how the law has adapted to the environmental challenges of the 21st Century and the ways in which it might be used to cope with environmental risks and uncertainties whilst promoting resilience and greater equality. These issues are considered in social context by contributors from different disciplines who examine some of the experiments tried in different parts of the world to govern the environment, improve the available legal tools and give voice to more diverse groups.
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Chapter 10: Environmental risks and authoritarian resilience in China

Thomas Johnson


This chapter argues that environmental risks present a growing threat to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) political legitimacy. One of the main ways this is manifested is through growing societal pressure on the CCP to demonstrate that it can protect its citizens from such risks. In this sense, risk resilience is inseparable from CCP resilience. Yet China’s system for pre-empting and managing environmental risks has long been viewed as a work in progress, and recent incidents, such as the series of massive explosions in Tianjin’s container port that resulted in over 100 fatalities, highlight the scale of the challenge facing the Chinese authorities. This chapter explores these challenges and analyses some of the ways in which the party-state has responded. Although the Chinese central government enacted a plethora of laws to protect the environment, these are in tension with (and often subservient to) the cadre responsibility system (CRS) which sets targets for officials and which, until recently, prioritised economic growth over environmental protection. This has changed somewhat, as stringent energy efficiency goals have become priority targets under the CRS. However, this chapter highlights problems associated with this approach including unintended outcomes. This chapter then looks at attempts to decentre environmental risk management through regulatory pluralisation. Yet, paradoxically, whilst most analyses argue that greater public involvement is required in order to overcome contemporary environmental risks, and although tentative steps towards facilitating more public support in environmental regulation have been taken, the CCP’s suspicion of non-state actors continues to limit their potential in managing environmental risks. Overall, this chapter concludes that deeper systemic change is needed in order to effectively manage environmental risks.

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