ADI Academic Profiles - Jørgen Delman

By Martin Wendelbo Rasmussen, Asian Dynamics Initiative

ADI - Academic Profiles series put spotlight on individual researchers working on Asia related issues in the social sciences and humanities, and promotes remarkable publications and innovative research projects.

Professor Jørgen Delman has been actively engaged in activities with Asian Dynamics Initiative since its launch in 2008, and in 2013 he became formally affiliated with the initiative. Jørgen’s research examines state-society relations and political change in contemporary China. As an addition to his academic career, Jørgen Delman has worked several years in the private sector complementing his deep insight into knowledge systems and processes in the interface between state and business sector in China. Currently, his research focuses on China’s climate change politics, climate governance at city level, energy and energy security politics, and renewable energy. Jørgen Delman is co-editor of a recently published volume Greening Chinas Urban Governance: Tackling Environmental and Sustainability Challenges, which is a result of work undertaken within the Sino-Nordic Urban Governance for Sustainable Cities Network (UGN).  The volume examines how urban stakeholders in China – particularly city governments and social actors – tackle China’s urban environmental crisis and lays out a unique framework for examining and discussing urban green governance in relation to China’s take on climate change.

Having covered a wide range of fields related to China, Jørgen Delmans academic profile has an impressive scope. We asked Jørgen how his former areas of interest have paved the way to the research behind his latest publication. 

“I have been interested in Chinese climate policy for many years. My research primarily focused on the national level, but I increasingly became interested in how the rather ambitious national policies were being implemented at a local level. I had a clear assumption that the national pressure would affect local authorities in the long run.”

Jørgen began this research 7-8 years ago in Hangzhou, the well-developed capital of Zhejiang Province, one of the richest provinces with the largest private sector in China. The local administration in Hangzhou has clearly had an interest in making Hangzhou a green city, a liveable city that can attract large private companies. Jørgen was interested in studying sustainable urban development from a governance perspective – how authorities exercise their powers and the effects at a local level. By focusing on both the state-owned sector and the private sector, Jørgen was able to outline the ongoing development and transformation dynamics of approaches by actors and stakeholders – the Chinese party state, the private sector and civil society – towards China’s urban green governance and their respective roles in these processes.

Can you briefly outline the major findings of your research in Hangzhou?

“What I discovered in Hangzhou was that ideas and concepts relating to sustainable urban development to a very large extent are incorporated into urban development programmes through the use of new public management methods. From a previous top down public administration approach there has been a move towards a more inclusive and outward-looking governance approach involving stakeholders outside the government apparatus in finding solutions for societal tasks and challenges.”

New public management is an adaption of neoliberal ideas to public administration. Based on market thinking and corporate business ways of solving tasks and problems it seeks to streamline the use of resources and to increase citizen’s satisfaction as customers of government services.

“This is a well-known approach in Denmark, and it is quite interesting to see that there is some kind of convergence between the way things are done in China and in Denmark. In relation to solving climate challenges it turns out that Denmark and China make use of some of the same instruments”, says Jørgen.

What became clear from Jørgen’s research was that green indicators have become increasingly important instruments for assessing civil servants and local government leaders in Hangzhou. Previously e.g. social growth or the so-called one-child policy were central indicators, but now officials also have to perform according to environmental indicators such as use of environmental impact assessments (EIA), level of CO2 emissions, energy conservation, utilization of resources or soil pollution in order to be successful.       

By analyzing the system for performance reviews of party-state organizations and their leaders, Jørgen’s research demonstrates how the review system in Hangzhou has potential to incentivize major government departments working with sustainability-related issues to toe the green Communist Party line. It suggests that innovative provisions to enhance public accountability of the local administration might help promote local environmental governance and green change and that social participation and public accountability can contribute to narrowing the implementation gap of urban environmental policies. The climate change and the broader environmental agendas are thus fundamentally contributing to developing the political system, and the areas Jørgen explores become cases to understand the broader dynamics behind political change in China.

In the process of working his way into the local situation, publishing articles and arranging workshops on the issue, Jørgen found a common interest in the topic among Nordic and Chinese researchers. This prompted him to join the formation of UGN in order to contribute new insights into the development of China’s green urban transition from a governance perspective.

Jørgen Delman and research partner and co-author, Guan Ting, outside “Hangzhou Climate Change Exhibition” at Science and Technology Museum in Hangzhou.

How does the publication bring attention to further research?

Along with Jørgen’s findings, the case studies behind Greening Chinas Urban Governance: Tackling Environmental and Sustainability Challenges cover a wide range of interdisciplinary topics such as new tools and instruments of urban green governance, climate change and urban carbon consumption, green justice, digital governance, public participation, social media, social movements, and popular protests, highlighting how China’s urban governments are challenged to bring together diverse programmatic building blocks and instruments from China and elsewhere. Based on extensive research, the volume lays out a unique theoretical framework for examining and discussing urban green governance. It will be interesting for researchers and students of urban political and environmental studies, governance issues, and social movements not only in regard to China, but on a global scale. Jørgen’s research emphasizes the importance of understanding how cities in China act towards the climate crisis in accordance with their policies, the responsible actors’ network and the structures of implementation.

And Jørgen has plans to continue developing this field of research:

Jørgen has just finished a study on policy learning and policy translation in relation to China’s energy politics with Sino-Danish energy collaboration as a case. It probes the impact of policy translation on China’s energy politics in relation to the intended green transition of China’s energy system. The study will be published next year in the Oxford Handbook of Translation and Social Practice.

“My next project will engage with China’s international energy projects, in particular in Africa. I will be looking at the governance aspects of these projects and present a paper at the upcoming ADI conference “Asia and Africa in Transition”, 21-23 October 2020. After that I plan to undertake a comparative study of some cities in China with different types of environmental challenges in order to further explore the complex policy regimes that evolve to handle China’s climate change politics.”

 ADI would like to thank Jørgen Delman for featuring in this interview.

November 2019