Dealing with the Invisible Grey of Blue Skies: local environmental governance from a multilevel governance perspective through the cases of air quality management in Nottingham City and Shanghai

Le, Nguyen Que Huong (2023) Dealing with the Invisible Grey of Blue Skies: local environmental governance from a multilevel governance perspective through the cases of air quality management in Nottingham City and Shanghai. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This doctoral thesis investigates urban environmental governance from a multilevel agenda-setting perspective through the examples of air quality management in Nottingham City/UK and Shanghai/China. A theoretical framework combining multilevel governance, governance agenda-setting, and impression management helps to explore how local actors from different governance contexts responded to top-down policy mandates to address a similar environmental issue (air pollution) and potential relationships between their governance approaches with the landscape of environmental governance beyond their local jurisdictions. Employing a most-different international comparative design, the study uses qualitative techniques to comparatively explore the two cases. The fieldwork was conducted in England and China, with in-depth interviews and observations of public meetings/events as the main data collection methods. Accordingly, this thesis generates the following key contributions to knowledge:

• The multilevel governance concept can be used both as an analytical lens and as a governance model to revisit governance practices. In that way, it is applicable in researching the political-institutional system of China even though it is different from Western traditions from which the concept has been developed.

• The invisibility of environmental pollution opened opportunities for ambiguous governance through ambiguous communication of environmental quality and governance performance. This ambiguity was aided by the advent of digital technologies. They were found to diversify stakeholders’ perceptions about environmental quality which influenced their engagement in governance and collective local capacity to respond to external influences.

• This thesis also revisits the concept of local autonomy in local environmental governance. Both the Nottingham City/UK and the Shanghai/China cases show certain levels of local autonomy, however, in incomplete forms and trapped in financial-evidence-based and performance-based policy-making approaches. Through the case studies, local autonomy and local governance capacity could be viewed as two different yet intertwined concepts. Local autonomy is also a relative concept. It is relative to external factors such as governance contexts and inter-relations with other actors, and relative to the autonomy-bearers’ internal factors such as their engagement capacity and motivation. Additionally, governance approaches of multiple governing levels and localities have inter-relations. Therefore, there are possible unequal outcomes among localities following the differences in their autonomous power and capacity to make and implement policy decisions.

• Overall, this study provides insights into the nuances of local environmental governance and the importance of considering multilevel governance and impression management in analysing local environmental governance. The findings suggest that policy-makers at any governing level should be aware of and consider risks of fragmented decentralisation and differentiated support for local actors to make policy decisions to minimise inequity in environmental governance and sustainable development opportunities across localities.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Roberts, Simon
Grundmann, Reiner
Winter, Amanda
Keywords: Multilevel governance, agenda-setting, local environmental governance, air quality management, impression management
Subjects: J Political science > JS Local government. Municipal government
T Technology > TD Environmental technology. Sanitary engineering
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Sociology and Social Policy
Item ID: 74327
Depositing User: Le, Huong
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2024 08:41
Last Modified: 14 Feb 2024 08:41

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