Pollute first, control later? Exploring the economic threshold of effective environmental regulation in China's context

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Article number109275
Number of pages13
Journal / PublicationJournal of Environmental Management
Online published14 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2019


For most developing countries, local government faces a trade-off between economic growth and environmental protection. The intentions towards having a better environment as the economy grows will trigger a shift in the priorities of local government from economy to environment at a certain level of economic development. To investigate the “pollute first, control later” path in China and how environmental regulation performs differently due to economic development, this paper develops a conceptual model to depict the nexus between economic growth and environmental improvement. A panel threshold model is estimated based on Chinese data from different spatial scales – 30 provinces and 105 environmental monitoring cities. The results validate the threshold of economic development of approximately CNY 90,000 GDP per capita, which represents the turning point for the local government priority change; such that only when it is exceeded does environmental regulation significantly reduce emissions. Until 2016, only 4 provincial districts and 35 prefecture-level cities have crossed the threshold, these being mostly in the more prosperous eastern coastal areas. The results emphasize the need to consider timeliness when evaluating the effectiveness of environmental regulation and highlight the importance of adopting differentiated governance. Moreover, the need to enhance the effectiveness of environmental regulation requires driving the change of local government's priority to the environment and strengthening the institutional capacity of environmental protection agencies.

Research Area(s)

  • China, Economic growth, Environmental governance, Environmental regulation, Local government, Threshold effect