Applied Energy, Volume 263, 1 April 2020,
Global warming and the acute domestic air pollution in China have necessitated transition to a sustainable energy system away from coal-dominated energy production. Through a systematic review of the national policy documents, this study investigates the policy mix adopted by the Chinese government to facilitate its energy transition and how that policy mix has evolved between 1981 and 2020. The chronological analysis emphasizes two dimensions of temporal changes in the policy mix: (1) changes in the policy intensity and density, and (2) the shift in policy instrument combinations. The policy mix has evolved from a few authority-based instruments to the current response that has a large density of instruments with a good diversity of instrument types. The Chinese government imposes an increasing policy intensity on air pollution abatement and a decreasing policy intensity on renewable energy support, and experiments with innovative policy instruments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The evolutionary trajectory features layering new policy instruments, calibrating existing ones and some degree of policy replacement and sequencing. Overall, the study shows that the Chinese government has adopted a complex mix of policy instruments to abate emissions (e.g. carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide) in the coal-based energy system and to support renewable energy technologies. The study provides an in-depth understanding of Chinese policy design in the environment and energy fields and contributes to the public policy literature by filling a research gap – the comparative lack of empirical analyses on the temporal changes in the policy mixes.