This study examines the making of local climate governance in the Chinese setting where central-local inter-governmental relations continue to play critical part in almost every policy domain. Through analysing the climate responses of the three provincial-level governments at the Yangtze River Delta (YRD), the paper argues that the process of “experimentation under hierarchy” is relevant to understanding the evolving of the subnational climate regime in the YRD region. We fnd the preponderance of the central authorities in initiating national climate strategies and galvanising responses at the local level. Meanwhile, provincial governments have been able to leverage climate plans and actions to achieve their own gains. These fndings suggest that any optimism about subnational climate activism in a Chinese setting has to be mixed with caution. In fact, the shadow of hierarchical authority structure lingers and plays important part in the initiation of subnational response and spurring climate responses and innovations from below.