Mix and match: Configuring different types of policy instruments to develop successful low carbon cities in China

Wenting Ma, Martin de Jong, Mark de Bruijne, Rui Mu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Local governments in China actively promote low carbon city pilots to respond to the challenges of climate change mentioned in the Sustainable Development Goals, including building sustainable cities and communities, and taking climate action. However, relatively little is known about the actual implementation of programs to achieve sustainable cities, especially how combinations of policy instruments are deployed in the realisation of low carbon cities. First, this study contributes to the literature in policy studies by identifying how four types relevant to carbon city development, hierarchy, market, network and information based ones, can be combined in policy mixes and play out in the effective realisation of low carbon cities in other countries. Second, this framework is used to map the application of policy instruments in China's 35 low carbon pilot cities. This study uses fuzzy set qualitative comparative analysis to explore which configurations of policy instruments are in use and assesses their effects on low carbon city construction. It thus builds a bridge between theory on policy instruments, their combinations and low carbon city development. The presence of hierarchical policy instruments appears to be a necessary condition for low carbon city development and their use prevails. Market-based and network-based instruments complement hierarchical instruments but do not suffice in themselves. Applying hierarchical instruments and market-based instruments together tends to hamper the effect of network instruments and information instruments, whereas network instruments appear to be interchangeable with information instruments. Network governance in China's low carbon city development is still comparatively underdeveloped.

Original languageEnglish
Article number125399
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • fsQCA
  • Hierarchy
  • Information
  • Low carbon cities
  • Market
  • Network
  • Policy instruments

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