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Authoritarian environmentalism, just transition, and the tension between environmental protection and social justice in China's forestry reform
Forest Policy and Economics  (IF3.673),  Pub Date : 2021-08-10, DOI: 10.1016/j.forpol.2021.102574
Kevin Lo

Authoritarian environmentalism (AE) has become an important source of social injustice in China. Taking clues from the theory of just transition and a case study of forestry reform in Northeast China, this article discusses the tension between environmental protection and social justice in Chinese AE. From a procedural perspective, the belief in insulated eco-elites being best placed to make environmental decisions, and the emphasis on policy expediency, are manifested in the top-down imposition of a sweeping ban on logging of natural forests. However, this non-participatory approach prevents critical and nuanced viewpoints on local impacts to be recognized and addressed. From a distributional perspective, while AE does not inherently contradict the norm of distributive justice, the forestry reform has negatively affected the undercompensated and under-supported laid off workers, created new energy poverty issues, undermined local public services, and disproportionately affected smaller, remote communities, some of whom have been outright abandoned. The findings highlight the need for scholars to engage with social justice issues in AE by championing the importance of a just transition process, experimenting with public engagement in the context of authoritarianism, and generating policy knowledge that facilitates the transformation toward sustainability.