Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Air pollution is one of the most severe and entrenched public health problems in China. Civil bulk coal for heating in rural areas is one main contributor to air pollution in northern China. Residential coal to clean energy policy (RCCEP), which is an air pollution control policy and energy policy, aims to eliminate civil bulk coal with clean energy (i.e., electricity, natural gas and clean coal). However, there is a dilemma between policy implementation and behavior change. On the one hand, this policy has been intensively implemented by local governments, even with some brutal actions of street level bureaucrats. On the other hand, the rural population’s behavior may be constrained by low SES, rural culture, solid entrenched traditional habits and lack of environmental awareness. This research aims to investigate how RCCEP and its implementation affect rural residents’ energy behavior from an interdisciplinary perceptive of public policy and behavioral science.

Based on a review of existing studies, three research gaps are identified. From the theoretical dimension, there is a lack of a framework to study how environmental policy affects individual behavior in a regime of authoritarian environmentalism, like Chin a. Almost all behavioral theories and most of the practice of behavioral science in public policy are built and tested from the experiences of Western democracies. This research attempts to provide an interdisciplinary framework for China which integrates theories across public policy and behavioral science. From the policy practice dimension, the existing studies on RCCEP mainly focus on its environmental effects, economic effects, health benefits and technologies. There is an absent study on RCCEP’s effects on energy behavior change. This research investigates the effect s of RCCEP as well as hidden factors in its impact on individual energy behavior. From the methodological dimension, a qualitative method is rarely used in the existing studies on RCCEP. This study applies a comprehensive qualitative method spanning a review of policy text and conducting semi structured interviews with each tier of local governments and rural households.

This research investigates how RCCEP and its implementation affect rural residents’ energy behavior through three sub questions: how is RCCEP implemented? what are RCCEP’s effects on energy behavior change? why do rural residents successfully/unsuccessfully change their energy behavior? To answer these questions, Pinggu district in Beijing was chosen as a case in this research. Policy text of RCCEP, government documents and statistics from national, BHT regional, Beijing municipal and Pinggu district governments were collected. Semi structured interviews were conducted with 5 district government officials, 3 township government officials, 6 members of village committees and 73 rural households. Content analysis and thematic analysis are used to analyze these qualitative data.

Research results indicate local governments of “district township village committee” tiers took excessive policy measures when faced with the re centralization of China’s environmental governance and the increasing importance of environmental targets. After intensive implementation, the policy outcome shows that it was effective to change rural residential energy behavior from burning bulk coal to clean energy, and it had a strong spillover effect on phasing out biomass. Most rural households successfully adopted and only used clean energy for heating, but some used both clean energy and biomass. A few rural households rejected clean energy or used illegal coal. Regulatory measures, fiscal incentives, nudges, providing information and technology were five policy instruments used to change energy behavior in the policy and policy implementation, their effectiveness in decreasing order. Apart from policy, internal factors, such as demographic factors (i.e., ageing population, poor public health, low economic status), attitudes to energy behavior change, habits of burning bulk coal and biomass, comfort and convenience, and external factors, such as political trends and authoritarian regime, the local economy, rural social norms and cultural lifestyle, also were determinants to positively or negatively impact rural residents’ energy behavior change.

This study explains how and why RCCEP affects individual energy behavior in current rural China. The research outcomes are transferrable for a larger scale implementation of RCCEP in northern China and have further implications for similar policies or projects of energy transition in other developing countries.

Date of Award1 Jan 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorKonstantinos Tsimonis (Supervisor) & affiliated academic (Supervisor)

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