In the last decades China has introduced a set of indicators to guide their Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) practice. The most recent indicator system, proposed in 2009, is based on sector-specific guidelines and it found its justification in past negative experiences with more general guidelines (from 2003), which were mostly inspired by, or copied from, international experiences. Based on interviews with practitioners, researchers and administrators, we map and analyse the change in the national guidelines. This analysis is based on a description of the indicators that makes it possible to discern different aggregation levels of indicators and then trace the changes occurring under two sets of guidelines. The analysis also reveals the reasons and rationales behind the changes found in the guidelines. This analysis is inspired by implementation theory and a description of some of the more general trends in the development of SEA and other environmental policies in a recent, Chinese context. Beside a more top-down, intentional approach specifying indicators for different sectors based on Chinese experiences from the preceding years, another significant change, following the new guidelines, is a more bottom-up approach which gives more discretion to practitioners. This entails a call for practitioners to make decisions on indicators, which involves an interpretation of the ones present in sector guidance.
Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 2014, Vol 44, p. 22-30