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Understanding China’s leadership in nature-based solutions : nominal adoption of fragmented norms Qi, Jianfeng

Abstract

Since the 2019 Climate Action Summit, China has been playing a prominent role in mainstreaming Nature-Based Solutions (NbS) in global environmental governance, promoting the use of ecosystem management to solve environmental and societal challenges. Global environmental norms like NbS shape our understanding of how to respond to environmental issues and guide our actions. This research investigates China’s seeming leadership in adopting and promoting NbS in its domestic actions and bilateral and multilateral programmes. I argue that China’s adoption of the NbS norm is a case of nominal adoption whereby its analogous local norms – Ecological Civilisation and the Two Mountains Theory – continue to guide domestic policy-making and are unaffected by the transnational norm. Relying on a systematic review of Chinese-language primary sources, I found that China’s discourse and actions involving the NbS norm are outward-oriented and aim to incorporate its domestic environmental practices and ideologies into the fragmented NbS norm, where the global recognition of NbS does not translate into consistent local implementation. In doing so, China is shaping global NbS implementation to its advantage and preventing its institutionalisation. It seeks to showcase its domestic environmental successes, while gaining performance legitimacy and reputational benefits to boosts its international image. This research fills the gap in the political science research on NbS and contributes to the global environmental politics literature by examining the role of one of the most biologically diverse countries in the politics of the NbS norm. The nominal adoption model helps to explain the anomalies of China’s NbS norm adoption and promotion; and highlights the evolving strategies of authoritarian environmentalism and the dynamic diffusion and localisation pathways of global environmental norms.

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