Citizen Participation and Government Accountability: National-Scale Experimental Evidence from Pollution Appeals in China

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Abstract

This paper reports a national-scale field experiment about how citizen participation affects the enforcement of pollution standards in China. Using data publicized by the country’s Continuous Emissions Monitoring System (CEMS), we identify in real-time firms that violate national emission standards and randomly intervene by making different appeals against those violations. Privately informing or appealing to local governments about violations has limited impact, while publicly appealing to local governments on social media significantly increases firms’ achievement of environmental standards. Firms that are subject to public appeals about violations are 40% less likely to violate emission standards on average and reduce their average air and water emission concentrations by 12% and 5% respectively. These effects are substantially larger when the appeals on social media are randomly promoted to a larger audience, suggesting that the public visibility of appeals creates incentives for local governments to enforce emissions standards. Exploiting additional features of our experimental design, we also demonstrate that appeals that are common knowledge to firms and local governments provide governments leverage to ensure firms comply with regulations. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that encouraging citizen participation could lead to significant improvements in China’s aggregate environmental quality.

About the speaker

Guojun He is an economist working on environmental, development, and governance issues. Currently, he is an assistant professor appointed jointly at the Division of Social Science, Division of Environment and Sustainability, and Department of Economics at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He is also a faculty associate of HKUST Institute for Emerging Market Studies and a faculty afiliate of HKUST Institute for Public Policy. In addition, Prof He holds a concurrent appointment at the University of Chicago's interdisciplinary Energy Policy Institute (EPIC) and serves as the research director of its China center (EPIC-China).

Prof He's research tries to address some of the most challenging problems faced by developing countriesand seeks to produce empirically-grounded estimates for optimal policy design. The majority of his work focuses on understanding the benefits and costs of environmental policies, while he also has a broader research interest in development and governance issues.

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