To combat significant pollution problems, a number of local governments in China have utilized performance management to improve cadres’ accountability on environmental issues. Despite the extensive literature on public sector performance management, attention to environmental performance management has been relatively scant. Taking Shenzhen – one of China's most densely populated, affluent, and rapidly growing cities – as a case study, this article describes and analyzes the evolution of the local environmental performance management system from 2007 to 2015. A series of external and internal factors are identified as determinants of policy evolution, including cadres’ individual decision-making, higher-level policies, intra-governmental interactions (horizontally and vertically), the relative salience of environmental issues, and strategies in policy experimentation. The multiplicity of factors further complicates the already complex process of performance measurement by setting it in a complex political context, which can distort the efficacy and objectives of the system, resulting in an unpredictable and compromised policy tool. Improving government environmental performance management involves reducing complexity by reforming aspects of the political context, allowing for a more serious, open, and transparent decision-making process.

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Journal of Cleaner Production