Multi-Level Governance: Explaining the “climate-focused” behavior of Chinese exporting companies

DOI10.1177/0952076718766722
Published date01 April 2019
AuthorYitian Huang
Date01 April 2019
Subject MatterSpecial Issue Articles
untitled Special Issue: Multi-Level Governance in China
Public Policy and Administration
2019, Vol. 34(2) 165–188
Multi-Level Governance:
! The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
Explaining the
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
DOI: 10.1177/0952076718766722
‘‘climate-focused’’
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behavior of Chinese
exporting companies
Yitian Huang
School of International Relations and Public Affairs,
Fudan University, China
Abstract
While being increasingly aware of the importance of adopting climate-friendly business
strategies, Chinese exporting companies have been active in taking ‘‘climate-related’’
actions but moderate in taking ‘‘climate-focused’’ actions. This article presents a pre-
liminary attempt to apply Multi-Level Governance theories to explain the behavior of
Chinese exporting companies toward climate change mitigation. It argues that the
convergence of state-centered climate politics and market-oriented climate governance,
which has a multi-level feature, has shaped the ‘‘climate-focused’’ behavior of Chinese
exporting companies. Specifically, nation-states, multinational enterprises, and non-
governmental organizations have contributed in the following ways: (1) at the global
level, nation-states co-established and interpreted international norms, which generally
justify the stance of the Chinese government, have been an indirect source of influence;
(2) at the national level, the Chinese government has been the most influential actor,
which has put emphasis on energy-saving when interpreting and operationalizing inter-
national norms; (3) at the industrial level, multinational enterprises and international
non-governmental organizations have been influential contributors by playing a pro-
active role in launching and running low-carbon initiatives; and (4) transnational
public–private partnerships launched in China and some developed countries have
offered limited momentum.
Keywords
Chinese exporting companies, ‘‘climate-focused’’, multi-level climate governance,
non-state actors, state actors
Corresponding author:
Yitian Huang, School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Fudan University, China.
Email: huangyitian@fudan.edu.cn

166
Public Policy and Administration 34(2)
Introduction
Emissions embodied in exports account for a large proportion of China’s total
emissions (Weitzel and Ma, 2014). In recent years, Chinese exporting companies
have been involved in the global campaign against climate change. Some Chinese
exporting companies have been increasingly aware of the climate challenge and
begun to dabble in ‘‘climate-friendly’’ initiatives by improving energy ef‌f‌iciency,
taking carbon footprint assessment, etc. Two types of ‘‘climate-friendly’’ activities
can be dif‌ferentiated. One can be termed as ‘‘climate-related’’ activities, which do
not put the reduction in greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions as the major aim, but
can generate auxiliary benef‌its of climate change mitigation. For example, energy-
saving and energy-ef‌f‌iciency enhancement directly contributes to saving energy but
at the same time helps reduce emissions. The other type is ‘‘climate-focused’’ in the
sense of being dedicated to emissions reduction but able to generate other benef‌its
such as energy-saving. Carbon trading, carbon footprint assessment, carbon label-
ing, etc., are typical ‘‘climate-focused’’ activities.1
Such a dif‌ferentiation is necessary for understanding the stance of Chinese
exporting companies because Chinese exporters have been moderate in taking
‘‘climate-focused’’ actions. As elaborated later, Chinese exporting companies
have been motivated by multinational enterprises (MNEs) and other developed
country actors to take carbon-labeling and other ‘‘climate-focused’’ activities.
Therefore, the following puzzle arises: how to understand the overall stance of
Chinese exporting companies toward taking ‘‘climate-focused’’ actions?
Some might argue that Chinese exporting companies have done the best cost–
benef‌it analysis for themselves (Kolk, Levy and Pinkse, 2008). While such a response
points to the micro-basis of this puzzle, from a governance perspective, a more com-
prehensive answer that takes into account contextual factors are needed. Above all,
the global campaign against climate change is in a highly politicized arena, since the
allocation of mitigation burden is perceived by nation-states as linked with their
economic and other national interests (Brenton, 2013). Particularly, while China
has never been required to set mandatory emissions reduction targets, the Chinese
government has kept a close eye on the development of climate-related standards,
some of which are endorsed by developed country governments. Besides, some major
developed countries have proposed to impose climate-related trade measures such as
boarder tax adjustments on imported goods from developing countries.
As an initial attempt to explore multi-level climate governance in China, this
article would contend that to better understand the ‘‘climate-focused’’ behavior of
Chinese exporting companies, the inf‌luence of both state and non-state actors,
either at the domestic or international level, on Chinese exporting companies
need to be explored in a broader context. The purpose is not to develop an ultimate
explanation. Instead, it would make ef‌forts to identify and conceptualize the exter-
nal driving factors through a combination of theoretical and empirical discussions.
As noted by Ongaro (2015), the explanatory power of Multi-Level Governance
cannot be fully realized unless synthesized with other streams of research and
applied in more issue-specif‌ic areas. In light of the fact that China has become

Huang
167
the largest emitters of GHGs, how Chinese exporting companies respond to domes-
tic and international pressure provide an applied f‌ield for exploring the potential of
Multi-Level Governance.
Drawing on a broad range of literature and integrating a case study, this article
argues that the convergence of state-centered climate politics and market-oriented
climate governance, which has a multi-level feature, has shaped the ‘‘climate-
focused’’ behavior of Chinese exporting companies. Specif‌ically, such a composite
multi-level system consists of nation-states, MNEs, and non-governmental organ-
izations (NGOs), which have exerted inf‌luence on Chinese exporters in the follow-
ing ways: (1) at the global level, nation-states co-established and interpreted
international norms, which provide a general guide for emissions reduction, but
are hardly inf‌luential at the industrial level; (2) at the national level, China has put
emphasis on energy-saving when interpreting and operationalizing international
norms; (3) at the industrial level, MNEs and international NGOs have played a
proactive role in engaging Chinese exporting companies, though to a moderate
extent, by launching and running low-carbon initiatives; and (4) China and some
developed countries have of‌fered limited momentum by co-leading transnational
public–private partnerships with the private sector.
The puzzle would be explored in the following sections. The next section intro-
duces the overall attitude of Chinese exporting companies toward taking ‘‘climate-
focused’’ actions. Then, an analytical framework from a multi-level perspective of
transnational environmental governance is developed drawing on a broad range of
environmental governance literature. Accordingly, ‘‘The roles of state and non-
state actors: Status and dynamics’’ section provides a further discussion of the
actions
and
interactions
of
relevant
nation-states,
MNEs,
and
NGOs.
‘‘Conclusion: Through the lens of multi-level climate governance’’ section con-
cludes by discussing the momentum behind, i.e. the traditional state-centered cli-
mate politics and the new trend of market-oriented climate governance.
The attitude of Chinese exporting companies
As far as ‘‘climate-focused’’ activities are concerned, the overall attitude of Chinese
exporting companies toward climate change mitigation has been changing. The
pattern of their behavioral change can be explored from two aspects. On the one
hand, there has been an increasing awareness of the importance of climate change
mitigation, which has also been accompanied by a gradually increased number of
carbon footprint assessment and carbon-labeling actions. For example, Socie´te´
Ge´ne´rale de Surveillance China, a leading company in the Chinese market, has
provided carbon footprint assessment service to hundreds of Chinese companies,
many of which are from exporting companies, such as consumer electronics, pulp
and paper, building materials, and textile. In addition, some local governmental
agencies and industrial associations have paid close attention to the challenges that
Chinese exporters face in overseas markets. Table 1 lists several examples of the
responses of local governments and industrial associations.

168
Public Policy and Administration 34(2)
Table 1. Examples on the responses of local governments and industrial associations to
overseas market pressure.
Actor
Stance
Shanghai Stone Trade Association
Identified carbon-labeling requirements as a new
barrier to stone exports in 2015
Foshan city, Guangdong province
As a response to major developed countries,
initiated a research project on the carbon
footprint of the Chinese Light-Emitting Diodes
(LED) industry in 2011
Fujian province
Launched the quality inspect platform for stone
products in 2011, which substantially benefits
exporters through providing carbon footprint
...

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