Promotion for Performance? The working incentive of Chinese provincial environmental agency heads in pollution reduction

Lei Liu, Mingyue Li, May Chu


Promotion is argued to be the primary working incentive for Chinese officials. Different from previous studies that focus on the provincial governors and party secretaries, this paper makes the first attempt to examine whether the career turnover of China’s provincial environmental agency heads (PEAHs) is affected by the environmental performance within their jurisdictions. The results show that the performance in reducing nationally targeted pollutants—i.e., sulfur dioxide (SO2) and chemical oxygen demand (COD)—is not necessarily correlated with political turnover, which only depends on political factors such as the age when assuming office, tenure of the office, and if they are local people. Therefore, a lack of promotion incentive is found among China’s PEAHs in local environmental management. Their working incentive is straightforward top-down control, making them merely the implementers of economy-dominated local public policy. A more robust and transparent performance management system, to connect the provincial environmental performance with the PEAH’s political career, is supposed to be beneficial for China’s environmental management.


Performance management; promotion incentive; environmental governance; environmental agency head; China

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