Located in Southwest China, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau covers the entire Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province, in addition to parts of Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Xinjiang. It is about 2.6 million sq km in area and most of it lies at an altitude of more than 4,000 m above sea level. Hailed as the “roof of the world”, the “third pole” and the “water tower of Asia”, the Plateau is a natural habitat for rare animals and a gene pool of plateau life. It is a key eco-safety barrier in China and Asia, and a focus of China’s drive to promote ecological progress.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese government have always valued ecological progress. Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping as its core has laid down ecological progress as a cornerstone for sustainable development of the Chinese nation, and made it one of the integral components of the development strategy for Chinese socialism together with economic, political, cultural, and social progress. China is striving to raise the awareness that “clear waters and green mountains are invaluable assets” and to put it into practice. We will value the ecological environment as we value our lives, and we will continue to pursue green development and build a beautiful China.
Ecological progress on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has a vital bearing on sustainable growth in the region and environmental protection in China and around the globe. The CPC and the Chinese government have taken ecological conservation as a top priority, and protection of the Plateau as a vital task for China’s survival and development. Now a system in this regard is being improved step by step on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, with solid achievements in improving ecological conservation and environment quality. Steady growth has been witnessed in the local green industry with a system of technological support in place, and an eco-culture is taking shape to showcase the Plateau’s exemplary role in ecological development.
I. An Improving System for Ensuring Ecological Progress
As China advances in environmental conservation, it is also improving its ecology-related policies and regulations for the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to form an increasingly complete system for ensuring ecological progress.
Ecology-related laws and regulations have been improved.
In recent years China has enacted, amended or revised the following laws:
• Environmental Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China,
• Atmospheric Pollution Prevention and Control Law of the People’s Republic of China,
• Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law of the People’s Republic of China,
• Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Prevention and Control of Environment Pollution Caused by Solid Wastes,
• Environmental Protection Tax Law of the People’s Republic of China,
• Law of the People’s Republic of China on Environmental Impact Assessment,
• Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Wildlife,
• Water Law of the People’s Republic of China,
• Meteorology Law of the People’s Republic of China, and
• Grassland Law of the People’s Republic of China.
The promulgation and implementation of these laws has provided a legal guarantee for protecting the ecological environment of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and boosting regional socio-economic development.
Two documents were issued in 2015, and they were the Opinions of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council on Accelerating Ecological Progress, and the General Plan for Reforming the System for Ecological Conservation, laying out the overall requirements, prospected goals, key tasks, and institutional arrangements to ensure ecological progress and reform the ecological sector, complete with a roadmap and timetable. To date, China has established a nationwide system of main functional areas and a resource-environment administration system. The central supervisory mechanism for environmental protection covers all 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government, with the central environment watchdog directly overseeing the activities of environmental protection organs below provincial level, such as those commissioned for environmental monitoring, inspection, and law enforcement. It has also put in place a “river and lake chief” system – where selected local Party and government officials ensure their assigned rivers and lakes are free from pollution – and a licensing mechanism for controlling pollutant discharge. China has run pilot programs to carry out river basin-related environment monitoring and law enforcement, in order to strengthen supervision in different river basins and boost synergistic law enforcement, and to have unified planning, standards, assessment, monitoring, and law enforcement activities within the same basins. To assess the performance of officials in providing leadership to ecological conservation, China has set up an ecological goal appraisal system, and a supervisory system for auditing the natural resource assets when a relevant official leaves office. In this way, a clear-cut and rigorous liability mechanism has been put in place so that both Party and government officials take responsibility for environmental protection, and they both fulfill official duties and uphold clean governance. The state has set red lines for ecological conservation, and put in force unified registration of natural resource rights, measures for managing natural and ecological space, and guidelines on reforming paid use of natural resource assets owned by the whole people. Different regulations and measures have been integrated for simplification, and pilot programs on state parks have been rolled out. China has improved its ecological compensation mechanism, and run trials to reform the ecological damage compensation system coordinated between cross-regional environmental protection institutions.
Each taking into account their local geographical conditions, Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan have formulated their own regulations and measures regarding ecological conservation. The Tibet Autonomous Region issued the Opinions on Building an Important National Barrier for Ecological Security and Accelerating Ecological Progress, Opinions on Building a Beautiful Tibet, and Measures of Tibet Autonomous Region on Environmental Conservation Appraisal. Qinghai Province released the General Plan of Qinghai Province on Developing a System for Ecological Progress, Regulations of Qinghai Province on Promoting Ecological Progress, and Action Plan of Qinghai Province on Pioneering an Ecological Model. Sichuan issued the Regulations of Sichuan Province on the Management of Nature Reserves; Gansu, the Regulations on the Management of Qilian Mountain State Nature Reserve; and Yunnan, the Plan on the Protection of the Two Rivers Ecological Barrier in Deqen Prefecture and Action Plan on the Protection of Biodiversity in Northwest Yunnan. Through these efforts a system has been established in all relevant provinces and autonomous regions to ensure ecological progress on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
A system of protected natural areas has been set up.
The system of protected natural areas is an important means of management to protect biodiversity, preserve natural capital, maintain ecosystem services, and safeguard the wellbeing of Chinese people and the peoples of the world. Currently the protected natural areas on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau are more and more composed of national parks than of nature reserves.
In 1963, the Plateau delineated its first state nature reserve (now the Baishuijiang State Nature Reserve). The Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Nature Reserves, promulgated in 1994, defined the ranking system, the management structure and the function zones of nature reserves, ushering in a period of rapid development of nature reserves on the Plateau. To date, the Plateau has established in total 155 nature reserves at all levels (41 state and 64 provincial ones), covering a total area of 822,400 sq km. This is equivalent to 31.63 percent of the Plateau’s landmass and represents 57.56 percent of China’s land nature reserve areas. Basically, all of the Plateau’s unique and fragile ecosystems and rare species can be found in these reserves.
As China reforms its system for ecological progress, the government has issued a directive to establish a system of protected natural areas, with state parks as the main element. In 2016, the state ratified the Plan for the Trial Run of the State Park at Sanjiangyuan (literally, source of three large rivers), the first pilot reform program to introduce state parks in China. The core aim is to make sure that the ecological resources of the Sanjiangyuan area, where the headwaters of the Yangtze River, Yellow River and Lancang River converge, are owned by the state, shared by the people, and passed down to future generations. The Regulations of Sanjiangyuan State Park (Trial), issued by Qinghai Province, defines clear provisions on the parks’ management in terms of background survey, targets of protection, ownership structure, assets and liabilities, biodiversity preservation, environmental monitoring, cultural legacy protection, ecological compensation, disaster prevention and reduction, and inspection and quarantine. In January 2018, the National Development and Reform Commission released the Overall Plan of Sanjiangyuan State Park, which further clarified the principles of running the park, its layout, functions, and management targets. The park will serve as a role model to guide green development on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and in surrounding areas.
An ecological compensation mechanism is in place.
The ecological compensation mechanism is an important step taken by the state to protect the environment. In the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau region, China has initiated a series of ecological compensation mechanisms, including transfer payments to key ecological function zones, forest ecological benefit compensation, grassland ecological protection subsidy and reward, and wetland ecological benefit compensation. In 2008-2017, the central government made transfer payments of RMB16.29 billion and RMB8.35 billion to the key ecological function zones in Qinghai and Tibet, covering 77 key counties and all areas prohibited to development by the state.
Since the 10th Five-year Plan period (2001-2005), Tibet Autonomous Region has received RMB31.6 billion in ecological compensation for its forests, grasslands, wetlands, and key ecological function zones. During the 12th Five-year Plan period (2011-2015), the state paid a total of RMB10.9 billion to Tibet in grassland conservation subsidy and rewards. Since 2015, the autonomous region has been experimenting with a compensation program for damage caused by wildlife, mitigating herdsmen’s losses to a total amount of RMB85 million.
Funds to encourage ecological progress in Qinghai Province have been increased. Since 2013, the central government has allotted a total of RMB16.4 billion in ecological compensation for grasslands, forests and wetlands in Qinghai. To integrate conservation and poverty reduction, Qinghai has initiated a public ranger program to monitor the environment, with an annual subsidy of RMB880 million. Since the 12th Five-year Plan period the state has helped 622,300 farming and herding households in Qinghai to obtain better housing, provided clean drinking water to 1.6 million people, and ensured reliable power access to 650,000 people. This represents a considerable improvement of quality of life. In Deqen Prefecture of Yunnan Province, an ecological compensation mechanism for public benefit forests has been in place since 2009, receiving a total of RMB1.1 billion in state subsidies by 2017. In 2017, Ganzi Prefecture of Sichuan Province had 1,282,300 ha of public benefit forests under effective protection and received RMB284 million in ecological compensation; the corresponding figures for Aba Prefecture were 696,000 ha and RMB154 million.
II. Prominent Progress in Ecosystem
Since the 1960s, and especially over the last three decades, the Chinese government has put in place various ecosystem conservation projects, including wildlife protection and nature reserve development, the construction of key shelter forests, natural forest conservation, returning farmland to forest and grassland, restoring grazing land to grassland, water and soil conservation, and wetland conservation and restoration. The Tibet Autonomous Region has implemented a project for the protection and construction of an eco-safety barrier, and a project for afforestation in the basins of the Yarlung Tsangpo, Nujiang, Lhasa, Nyangchu, Yalong, and Shiquan rivers. Qinghai Province implemented a project for the conservation and restoration of the Qilian Mountain ecosystem, composed of mountains, rivers, forest, farmland, lakes, and grassland, a project for the conservation and comprehensive improvement of the Qinghai Lake ecosystem, and a project for the ecological conservation and construction of Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve. In 2011, the Chinese government issued and implemented the Plan for Regional Ecological Construction and Environmental Protection on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (2011-2030). A number of eco-projects have been implemented, achieving positive results in ecosystem conservation, bringing under control the degradation of the local ecosystem, restoring the biodiversity, and the ecological functions of several regions where key eco-projects were implemented have been comprehensively improved.
Ecological degradation is under control.
Alpine grassland is a major ecosystem on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, playing an important role as an eco-safety barrier, and serving as the basis of highland animal husbandry. Climate change, overgrazing and some other reasons caused continuous degradation of alpine grasslands. By the mid-1980s, the grassland area in Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province had been reduced to 820,000 sq km in total. Later, due to the implementation by the government of such policies as issuance of allowances for restoring grazing land to grassland and protecting the grassland ecosystem, and the undertaking of a number of grassland ecological conservation projects, such as pest and rodent prevention and control, progress was made in grassland ecosystem conservation on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. According to research, from 1982 to 2009 the grassland coverage rate of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and its net primary productivity (NPP) showed an overall increase, with newly-added grassland coverage accounting for 47 percent of the total, and the area with a dramatic NPP increase reaching more than 32 percent of the total. In the recent decade, the local grassland ecosystem has maintained steady and positive improvement.
The forests on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau are mainly distributed in northwest Yunnan, southeast Tibet, west Sichuan, south Gansu, and east Qinghai. Since the 1950s, great changes have taken place in terms of coverage, reserve, type, and spatial distribution of the forests. According to the results of the Ninth National Forest Resource Survey in 2016, in Tibet, the area of forested land was 17.98 million ha, that of forests was 14.91 million ha, the forest coverage rate was 12.14 percent, and the total stock of timber reached 2.3 billion cu m. Compared with the results of the Eighth National Forest Resource Survey conducted in 2011, in Tibet, the area of forested land and that of forests had increased by 147,500 ha and 198,700 ha respectively, the rate of forest coverage went up by 0.16 percentage point, and the stock of timber by 20.47 million cu m, an increase in both forest area and timber stock.
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau boasts the most and largest area of wetlands in China. In 1990, the total area of wetlands on the Plateau was about 134,500 sq km. From 1990 to 2006, local wetlands suffered continuous degradation at an annual rate of 0.13 percent. In this period, the total area of wetlands had been reduced by 3,000 sq km. Since 2006, due to efforts in conservation and natural environmental factors, the area of wetlands have picked up obviously. By 2011, the wetland area in Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province alone had reached 146,700 sq km, and the trend of wetland degradation had generally been contained. By 2014, the wetland area in Qinghai had reached 81,400 sq km. In recent years, as China has intensified efforts in conservation, further improvement has been witnessed in the local wetland ecosystem.
Significant achievements have been made in biodiversity protection.
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is one of the regions with the richest biodiversity in the world. The Qiangtang-Sanjiangyuan area, the area extending from the Minshan Mountain to the northern range of Hengduan Mountains, the area southeast of the Himalayas, and the southern range of Hengduan Mountains are key biodiversity conservation zones in China. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has about 3,760 distinctive spermatophyte species, 280 distinctive vertebrate species, 300 rare and endangered species of higher plants, and 120 species of rare and endangered animals. The nature reserves established have effectively protected the rare and endangered wildlife unique to the Plateau as well as their habitats.
The restoration and expansion of rare and endangered species is obvious evidence of success in biodiversity conservation. According to research, the numbers of black-necked crane (Grus nigricollis), Tibetan antelope (Pantholopshodgsonii), Przewalski’s gazelle (Procapraprze walskii), wild yak (Bosmutus), red deer (Cervuselaphus), and Yunnan snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopi thecusbieti), have increased steadily. Since the establishment of the Black-necked Crane National Nature Reserve on the Middle Reaches of the Yarlung Tsangpo River in Tibet Autonomous Region in 1993, the number of overwintering black-necked crane has increased year by year, accounting for 80 percent of the world’s total, and the nature reserve has become the world’s largest wintering ground for black-necked cranes. The number of Tibetan antelope on the Qiangtang Plateau in Tibet Autonomous Region increased from about 60,000 in 2000 to over 200,000 in 2016. And the number of wild yak in this area increased from 6,000 before it was included for protection to 10,000 in 2016. At the Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve in Yunnan Province, the number of Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys increased from about 2,000 in 1988, when the nature reserve was established, to about 2,500 in 2014. Additionally, new populations of rare and endangered species have been found at several localities. The Tibet red deer, which had been considered extinct, was rediscovered in Sangri County, Tibetan Autonomous Region in 1995, and its number is increasing. The Burmese snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopith ecusstrykeri), one of the most endangered species, was found at the Gaoligong Mountain National Nature Reserve in Yunnan Province. The Sichuan Jay (Perisoreus internigrans) was found at the Gahai-Zecha National Nature Reserve in Gansu Province.
Improvement of the wildlife habitats is the basis for protecting biodiversity. The improvement of vegetation on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has improved the environmental quality of local wildlife habitats. From 1998 to 2009, marked improvement had been observed in the vegetation of core areas of the Mount Qomolangma National Nature Reserve in Tibet Autonomous Region. Since 2005, at the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve in Qinghai Province, desertification has been contained, the area of wetlands has been increased, vegetation has improved, wildlife habitat fragmentation has been slowed, and the eco-environment has notably improved. In the Gahai-Zecha National Nature Reserve in Qinghai Province, the area of the Gahai Lake increased from 480 ha in 2003 to 2,354 ha in 2013, and has maintained a coverage in excess of 2,000 ha in recent years; this increase in the water surface area has helped water fowl to survive and multiply.
Key eco-projects have produced preliminary results.
In 2009, the state approved the Plan for the Protection and Construction of the Eco-safety Barrier in Tibet (2008-2030). By the end of 2017, 10 projects concerning ecological conservation, construction, and support had been implemented, with a total investment of RMB9.6 billion. The first-stage project (2008-2014) completed the framework of Tibet’s eco-projects; several key projects have begun to yield notable ecological effects; local ecosystem service functions improved steadily; and the functions of the ecological barrier remained stable and showed continuous improvement.
In 2005, China launched a project for the ecological conservation and construction of Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve; by the end of 2017, the total investment amounted to RMB8 billion. By the end of the first-stage of the project in 2013, grassland degradation had been contained; water and wetland ecosystems had been restored; and water conservation and water supply capacity in river basins had improved. Compared with 2004, the Yangtze River, Yellow River, and Lancang River provided their lower reaches with additional 5.8 billion cu m of quality water annually on the average – a forceful support for regional social and economic development.
III. Steady Improvement of Environmental Quality
The central and local governments have carried out a number of environmental protection projects for comprehensive improvement of river basins, improvement of urban and rural living conditions, and prevention and control of pollution from factories and mines. As a result, the environmental quality and living conditions on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau have steadily turned better.
Quality of the water environment has kept improving.
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is where a number of Asia’s largest rivers see their headwaters; it is one of the regions under the strictest water resource management and water environment protection in China. The state has reinforced protection on the Plateau with a set of key measures including: compiling comprehensive planning for major water bodies, demarcating the functional zones of rivers and lakes, clearly defining the functions of water bodies and the goals of water quality protection, determining the pollution accommodating capacity of major rivers and lakes and the total volume of discharges allowed, and introducing a strictest system of water resource management. A system of assessment quotas has been established at three administrative levels – province (autonomous region), prefecture (city) and county (district) – as a measure to promote water environment protection and restoration and ensure the security of water ecology on the Plateau.
During the 12th Five-year Plan period, the state spent RMB25.31 billion on Plateau projects related to rural drinking water, water and soil conservation, and water conservation on pasture land, providing safe drinking water to 4.57 million farmers and herdsmen, and building water supply facilities for 1,400 monasteries. Drinking water is now safe in areas where local water has high fluoride and arsenide levels, tastes bitter and salty or is highly polluted, and in places that are seriously short of water. In 2014, the state invested RMB478 million in the environmental improvement and ecological restoration projects of Namco, Yamzho Yumco, Keluke Lake and the lakes at the source of the Yellow River. In recent years, a total of 1,730 sq km of land have been saved from soil erosion due to the effort invested in small river basin ecological improvement and
hillside land soil conservation. Thanks to the ecological protection endeavors at the source of three large rivers, the Qinghai Lake and the Qilian Mountains, 60 billion cu m of quality water is supplied to downstream areas every year. At present, the major rivers and lakes on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau are basically in their original natural conditions with good water quality.
Soil functions have been effectively enhanced.
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is one of the least polluted areas on earth, and the soil environment is overall in its original environmental background state. The soil types and the heavy metal element content are determined by the property of parent rocks and climatic conditions, and little impacted by human activities. The content of copper, nickel, lead and other heavy metals in the local lake deposits is lower than those of lake deposits in places more frequented by humans. The heavy metal content in the arable soils is lower than the national standards for soil of Grade I.
Along with the implementation of ecological and environmental protection measures, the ecological functions of the local soils have been effectively enhanced. Over the last 50 years, the carbon storage in China’s grassland soils has displayed a tendency of undulating increase, with the grasslands on the Plateau contributing the most (63.1 percent) and the inorganic carbon pool in the soils three meters under the alpine grasslands accounting for 70 percent of the national total. The annual water conservation volume is 345 billion cu m. Following the completion of phase I of the Sanjiangyuan ecological protection and construction project, the annual water conservation volume of the forest and grassland ecosystems has increased by 15.6 percent, and fencing the forests has also contributed to improvement in the organic carbon, moisture and micro-organics content in the soils.
Air environment has maintained good quality.
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has a low intensity of human activity. The air quality is little impacted, the types of pollutants are few and the density is low, and the content of pollutants is similar to those at the North Pole. With the promotion of use of green energy, the progress in building ecological towns, and efforts to improve rural environment, the air quality on the Plateau has seen further improvement. Of the 96 key cities whose annual density of particles met relevant standards in 2016, 16 were located on the Plateau. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is still one of the cleanest regions on earth.
Living environment has notably improved.
The state has spent some RMB6.3 billion since 2009 on domestic sewage and waste disposal projects and sewage conduits in the towns of Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai Province and the Tibetan-inhabited towns in Sichuan, Yunnan, and Gansu provinces, leading to a significant increase in local disposal capacity. Since the 12th Five-year Plan period, the state has invested RMB5.45 billion improving the rural environment on the Plateau. Of this sum, RMB349 million went to Tibet, 1.63 billion to Sichuan, 1.45 billion to Yunnan, 899 million to Gansu, and 1.12 billion to Qinghai.
The Tibet Autonomous Region has worked to improve the living conditions of urban and rural communities and address problems related to garbage classification, noise pollution, sewage discharge, and straw burning. Since 2010, it has allocated RMB11.82 billion for the improvement of living conditions in more than 5,261 villages, and introduced long-term mechanisms for rural environment management and protection. Since 2008, Qinghai Province has allocated RMB1.74 billion of special funds for the environmental improvement of over 3,015 villages and settlements of nomadic people, benefiting 2.2 million people – 76 percent of its rural population. In 2014, Qinghai started a beautiful village project, in which it had invested RMB10.77 billion by the end of 2017. Today, the rate of urban domestic sewage disposal has reached 78 percent and domestic waste bio-safety disposal 96.69 percent, and the living conditions have been notably improved in cities and towns. The Garze Prefecture of Sichuan Province has carried out a three-year action to address waste and sewage problems, and directed RMB275 million of local government special bond funds into new urbanization efforts. By the end of 2017, the Aba Prefecture of Sichuan Province had invested RMB585 million in sewage and waste disposal facilities. The Deqen Prefecture of Yunnan Province has prohibited the sale, supply and usage of non-degradable plastic products in the areas under its jurisdiction, and achieved marked progress in water, soil and air pollution control. The Gannan Prefecture of Gansu Province has spent RMB5.25 billion creating 703 “well-off villages” with a pleasant ecological environment, ending up in improving their infrastructure, public services, and social security.
IV. Steady Development of Green Industry
With the goal of protecting the fragile ecological environment, the provinces and autonomous regions on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau work hard to control the intensity of resource exploitation and utilization. Efforts are made to maintain a good environment and a high degree of public satisfaction with ecological progress, and to achieve green development. An economic model featuring a circular economy, renewable energy, and distinctive industries, is forming on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, signaling an increasing level of green development.
Green production has begun to take shape.
In their efforts to create a green development model, provinces and autonomous regions on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau are committed to an eco-friendly path to economic growth involving low and intensive utilization of resources.
The state has established two national circular economy pilot industrial parks in Qinghai Province – Qaidam Circular Economy Pilot Area and Xining Economic and Technological Development Zone. Industrial activities in Qaidam Circular Economy Pilot Area include salt lake chemical, oil and gas chemical, metallurgy, comprehensive utilization of coal, new energy, new materials and special biological industries, with more intensive utilization of the local resources. Xining Economic and Technological Development Zone features nonferrous metals, chemicals, alpine biological products, traditional Chinese medicine (including Tibetan medicine), Tibetan carpets, playing a leading and exemplary role in improving the quality and increasing the benefits of development. A basic green industry framework is now in place, extending the industrial chain and improving the infrastructure.
Based on its resource strengths, the Tibet Autonomous Region has been endeavoring to optimize and upgrade its industrial structure. It has worked out the Circular Economy Development Plan of the Tibet Autonomous Region (2013-2020). Efforts are focused on clean energy, tourism, culture, characteristic foods, natural drinking water, transport, commerce, logistics, finance, information services, and other green low-carbon economic activities. In 2016 Lhasa was designated as a national demonstration city for the circular economy, and is now working in accordance with the Establishing the Implementation Plan of Circular Economy Demonstration City for Lhasa of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Relying on its resource strengths, Yunnan Province’s Deqen Prefecture is focusing on four major sectors (foods, drugs, beverages and ornamental products) and on the construction of green industrial parks, along with a burgeoning biological industry. In accordance with the ecological functions of local areas, Gansu Province’s Gannan Prefecture has developed a strategy of “building an eco-friendly prefecture”, and defined the future direction of green industry.
Unique strengths of local agriculture and animal husbandry have become increasingly outstanding.
Provinces and autonomous regions on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau focus on unique agriculture and animal husbandry, cultivating green and organic agricultural and livestock products and brands, and building pilot areas for ecological agriculture and animal husbandry. These have become an important part of the green economy on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
Since 2004, the state has invested more than RMB3 billion in Tibet, directed to more than 450 projects in 10 categories related to agriculture and animal husbandry unique to the region, including highland barley, yak-breeding, and traditional Tibetan medicine. More than 100 leading enterprises have emerged as a result, increasing the incomes of local farmers and herdsmen by RMB1.18 billion and benefiting 1.75 million people. The Tibet Autonomous Region is pressing forward with the certification of products of specified geographical origin, developing unique brands, and speeding up development of animal husbandry and agricultural products. To date, more than 10 farm and pastoral products of specified geographical origin have been certified by relevant government departments, including Pagri yak, Gamba sheep, Lhünzê black highland barley, Zayü kiwi fruit and Bomê Gastrodiaelata.
Qinghai Province focuses on four industries, i.e., grain and oil crop, livestock and poultry, fruit and vegetable, and Chinese wolfberry and sea buckthorn. Each of these represents output value of more than RMB10 billion. The speed of optimization of a ternary structure of grain, cash and forage crops is picking up. The building of national grassland ecological animal husbandry pilot areas, modern agriculture demonstration zones and industrial parks are making headway. By the end of the 12th Five-year Plan, there were 1,879 family farms and pastures, 8,876 cooperatives of various types, and 451 leading agriculture and animal husbandry enterprises in Qinghai. Crops unique to the region represented 85 percent of planting by area, and the coverage rate of improved varieties of crops was 96 percent. The corresponding figures for improved breeds of livestock & poultry and aquatic products were 62 percent and 95 percent. The total annual output of eco-friendly green and organic agricultural and livestock products reached 1.09 million tons. An agricultural products quality traceability system has been implemented. A “three areas and one zone” development framework for agriculture and animal husbandry is in place; this refers to a characteristic planting and high efficiency demonstration area in the east, a circular economic development pilot area in a farming-pastoral ecotone area around the lake, an ecological and organic animal husbandry protection and development area in southern Qinghai, and a cold water moderate aquaculture development zone along the Yellow River.
In order to accelerate the development of its growing industry unique to the region, forest & fruit industries, and the industry of byproducts of forests, Gansu Province’s Gannan Prefecture focuses on the building of a highland barley base and barley industrialization project in the Tibetan-inhabited area, construction of the bases of highland quality rape and traditional Chinese medicine (including Tibetan medicine). Sichuan Province’s Garze Prefecture and Aba Prefecture integrate ecological progress with ecological agriculture, construct bases for characteristic agriculture & animal husbandry and the forest & fruit industries each covering a total area of more than 100 million mu (133,400 ha.), and develop planting bases for Chinese prickly ash, forest vegetables, and woody herbs. In 2017, the area for growing crops unique to the locality in Yunnan Province’s Deqen Prefecture reached 90,700 ha., turning out an output value of RMB1.9 billion.
Green energy develops rapidly.
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is rich in hydro energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, and other green energies. In recent years, the provinces and autonomous regions on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau have each built its own basic renewable energy industry system focusing on hydroelectricity and solar energy to support the coordinated development of the regional economy and environmental protection.
On the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, many big rivers, running through high mountains and canyons, boast significant potential for hydropower development. Tibet leads the country with 174 million kW of potential hydropower. In recent years, Tibet has built three medium-scale hydropower stations, i.e., Duobu, Jinhe and Drigung. By the end of 2017, Tibet’s installed hydropower capacity was 1.77 million kW, accounting for 56.54 percent of the region’s total installed capacity.
With 24 million kW of exploitable hydropower resources, Qinghai Province has built three large hydropower projects, i.e., Longyang Gorge, Laxiwa, and Lijia Gorge. By the end of 2016, Qinghai’s installed hydropower capacity was 11.92 million kW.
Sichuan Province’s Garze Prefecture and Aba Prefecture boast 56.63 million kW of exploitable hydropower, and 17.08 million kW of installed capacity in completed hydropower stations.
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau area is a world-leading source of solar energy, with 5,400-8,000MJ per sq m of annual total solar radiation, 50-100 percent higher than low-elevation areas on the same latitude. Qinghai Province has launched several photovoltaic (PV) power station projects in the Qaidam Basin, each with a capacity of at least one million kW, and is planning to build the world’s largest PV power station. By the end of 2016, Qinghai’s installed PV capacity had reached 6.82 million kW.
In 2014, Tibet received approval from the state to develop PV power stations without limit in scale of construction and enjoying priority state support. By the end of 2017, Tibet’s installed PV capacity was 790,000 kW.
Sichuan Province’s Garze Prefecture and Aba Prefecture have more than 20 million kW of exploitable solar energy, and PV power stations with a total capacity of 350,000 kW are in service.
Tourism boosts green development.
The unique natural and cultural landscape on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau provides rich potential for tourism, encouraging the catering, accommodation, transport, culture, and entertainment sectors, and protecting cultural heritage and the survival of traditional crafts, and the development of characteristic products. Tourism has become an important channel for green growth and higher incomes for farmers and herdsmen.
Giving top priority to ecological protection, provinces and autonomous regions on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau are promoting characteristic and holistic tourism, building new tourism infrastructure and supporting facilities, and encouraging tourism to integrate with the cultural, sports and health industries. The Tibet Autonomous Region is developing ecological tourism and quality holistic tourist routes based on nature reserves, national forest parks, and national wetland parks. Sichuan Province focuses on developing the Jiuzhaigou-Ruoergai Grassland tourism economic circle, and holistic tourism demonstration areas in Aba Prefecture and Garze Prefecture. Gansu Province is cultivating landscape and prairie & wetland eco-tours, building garbage-free demonstration areas for holistic tourism in Gannan Prefecture, and coordinating growth in tourism with eco-environmental protection.
In 2017, Tibet hosted more than 25.61 million visitors and its revenues totaled RMB37.94 billion, representing 28.95 percent of the region’s GDP; Qinghai received 34.84 million visitors and its revenues totaled RMB38.15 billion, representing 14.44 percent of the province’s GDP. In 2017, Yunnan Province’s Deqen Prefecture received 26.76 million visitors, providing revenues of RMB29.8 billion. The number of visitors to and the tourism revenues of the plateau region of Gansu Province have grown at a double-digit rate for the last seven years. In 2017, it received 11.06 million tourists providing revenues of more than RMB5.14 billion.
V. Sci-tech Support System Is in Place
Since the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, scientific research on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has developed from partial, single-subject, domestic research to integrated, comprehensive research involving international cooperation. A team of high-caliber researchers has been established, together with an ecological and environmental monitoring system. Sci-tech is playing an ever more important supporting role in socio-economic development and ecological progress on the Plateau.
Top-notch researchers and sci-tech achievements
Chinese sci-tech workers started short-term, small-scale scientific studies on part of the Plateau in the 1950s. Large-scale and comprehensive investigation work was carried out from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, generating first-hand materials totaling several million Chinese characters. Based on the materials, quite a number of books, including 43 monographs, on the Plateau research were published, making up the first Qinghai-Tibet Plateau encyclopedia. The team under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) was commended by the State Council at the commended 1978 National Conference on Science. Comprehensive Research on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau’s Rise and on Its Effects on Environment and Human Activities won the first prize of the 1987 National Award for Natural Science. Since the 1990s, to meet the needs of socio-economic development and environmental improvement on the Plateau, the Chinese government has launched research programs on the rational development of regional resources, ecological restoration and environmental governance, and planning for socio-economic development, and carried out systematic research in related subjects on the formation, evolution, and influence of the Plateau, and some other scientific issues. The second round of comprehensive investigation and research on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau will continue providing comprehensive sci-tech support for local ecological progress, with focus on water, ecology, and human activities, and with the goal of solving such problems as environmental carrying capacity, disaster risks, and approaches to green development.
Over the past 60 years or more, the sci-tech workers, with those from the CAS as mainstay, have made pioneering achievements in basic and applied research on the Plateau. For example, Academician Liu Dongsheng established the tectonics-climate theory based on his research on the Plateau’s rise and East Asian monsoon climate change; Academician Ye Duzheng proposed that the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is a thermal source in summer, and thus pioneered research on topography and thermodynamic activities and established the basics of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau meteorology theory. These innovative achievements have driven related subjects forward, and played a supporting role in the region’s socio-economic development, infrastructure construction and environmental improvement.
China now boasts a sci-tech team engaged in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau research, with accumulated experience and expertise and supported by relevant subjects. The team has senior, middle-aged and young researchers, including more than 40 academicians of the CAS and the Chinese Academy of Engineering, more than 100 awardees of the Plan for Introducing Overseas High-level Talents (also called the Thousand Talents Plan) and the Special National Plan for High-level Talents (also called the 10,000 Talents Plan), and winners of the National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars, and some other leading talent. Among them, Liu Dongsheng won the 2003 Highest Science and Technology Award of China, Ye Duzheng, the 2005 award, and Wu Zhengyi, the 2007 award; Sun Honglie won the Ettore Majorana-Erice Science for Peace Prize 2009; and Yao Tandong won the 2017 Vega Medal of Svenska Sällskapet för Antropologi och Geografi. These scientists are renowned around the world for their research achievements on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
An improved eco-environmental monitoring system
To monitor eco-environmental changes on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, China has set up a relatively complete monitoring and early-warning system that integrates air and land networks, including a Chinese ecosystem research network, a network for monitoring and studying
earth surface processes and environment in extremely cold areas of high altitude, and observation networks in environmental protection, land, agriculture, forestry, water conservancy, meteorology and some other fields. Under the Chinese ecosystem research network, observation stations for eight different ecosystems, including forest, grassland, farmland and desert, have been set up on the Plateau and surrounding areas, offering long-term located monitoring of changes of the Plateau ecosystem and thus revealing laws for and causes of changes in the ecosystem and environmental factors. With the network for monitoring and studying earth surface processes and environment in extremely cold areas of high altitude, researchers have performed continuous monitoring of environmental change on the Plateau surface. During the 12th Five-year Plan period, meteorological departments set up nine new-generation weather radars, 18 aerological observation stations, 123 state-level ground meteorological observation stations, and 1,361 regional meteorological observation stations, and launched three Fengyun meteorological satellites, thereby improving the network of meteorological observation and test stations. Tibet Autonomous Region has set up 22 state-level surface water inspection sections and 18 state-controlled air quality monitoring stations; the corresponding figures for Qinghai Province are 19 and 11. In some key areas, for example Sanjiangyuan, relevant departments have established a satellite-aircraft-earth integrated, stereoscopic monitoring and evaluation system, and a high-quality database spanning the longest time period and containing the most data items in this area. With improved ecological and environmental monitoring networks and enhanced data quality, environmental governance has improved greatly in terms of capability and efficiency.
Sci-tech-supported green development
Sci-tech is playing a more obvious supporting role in socio-economic development and ecological progress on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
The Qinghai-Tibet Railway is a landmark project, demonstrating the guidance given by sci-tech innovation to green development. The Golmud-Lhasa section extends 1,142 km, and construction workers were confronted with three extreme engineering problems: melting permafrost, hypoxia at high altitude, and a vulnerable ecology. As the section runs through permafrost regions for almost 546.4 km, sci-tech personnel designed and adopted such measures as replacing surface routes with viaducts, rubble ventilated embankments, ventiduct roadbeds, gravel and rubble revetments, heat conducting poles, insulation boards, and integrated waterproof and drainage systems. These were based on a great volume of observation data and previous technological achievements, ensuring the successful completion of this section. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway also runs through some national nature reserves, including Hoh Xil, Sanjiangyuan and Siling Co. To protect the living environment of Tibetan antelopes and other wild animals, 33 special passageways were added along the railway; to protect the ecological environment, a series of measures were taken, including sand hazard control, grass planting, and turf transplanting. Since the railway was brought into operation, the permafrost has been stable, and the ecology along the line is recovering, with some areas approaching or even surpassing the level of their surroundings. The achievements of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway have earned international acclaim. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in its fourth and fifth assessment reports, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway offers a successful example for other countries and regions in building “green” railways adapted to climate change. Science magazine in the United States published an article on April 27, 2007, pointing out that the railway will “ultimately promote the sustainable ecological, social, and economic development of western China”, describing it as not only an engineering accomplishment, but also “an ecological miracle”. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway Project won the special award of the 2008 National Award for Scientific and Technological Progress.
Sci-tech has played a strong supporting role in controlling the ecosystem degradation of the Sanjiangyuan region. A technical system for restoring degraded alpine meadows (Heitutan, or black soil land) has achieved big breakthroughs in relevant researches, and the achievements won a Class-II prize in the National Award for Scientific and Technological Progress. A technique for cultivating breeder seeds of forage grass has provided high-quality seeds for controlling typical degraded pastures and artificial grass planting.
Traditional Tibetan medicine is a precious health treasure for people living on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and a major resource strength for the Plateau to develop a local specialty economy. To develop Tibetan medicine in a standard, modern and industrialized way, sci-tech departments have promoted research on and demonstration of key techniques, such as artificial planting and wild tending of Tibetan medicinal materials. They have carried out basic and applied research on Tibetan medicine, and kept improving the standards and the inspection and monitoring system of Tibetan medicine. They have fostered a group of innovative enterprises in prevention and treatment of diseases, research and development of drugs, and health preservation, and created a series of branded Tibetan medicine products.
VI. A Developing Culture That Values Ecological Awareness
With advances in ecological conservation on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, there has been a profound change in how people think and live. It has become widely recognized that protecting the environment means protecting our common home, with growing confidence in our eco-culture.
Ecological awareness is taking root.
To promote ecological progress on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the relevant provinces and autonomous regions have taken active measures to increase public awareness of eco-conservation, such as strengthening public campaigns on environmental protection, building cultural infrastructure, organizing education and training sessions, encouraging public participation, rewarding role models, and introducing eco-themed holidays. In the past, people would exhaust their natural environment for food and wealth, but now they are beginning to understand that green mountains and clear water, and even snow and ice, are valuable assets that represent our true wealth. The idea of respecting nature, following nature’s law, and protecting nature has become popular.
During the 12th Five-year Plan period, Tibet Autonomous Region built a series of key public cultural facilities, and initiated such programs as cultural and sports facilities, movie circuits, village libraries, sharing village-level broadcasting resource, upgrading village clinic equipment, and solar lighting for public use. During the period, 1,616 cultural plazas were opened in Tibet, which now boasts an extensive network of cultural facilities, including public arts galleries at the prefecture/city level, cultural centers at the county/district level, Xinhua bookstores, township cultural stations, and village libraries. The autonomous region has also carried out “energy-conserving week” and “low-carbon day” campaigns to enhance the public’s awareness of environmental protection, which has also become an important basis for evaluating the performance of villages, towns, and cities when selecting role models in this regard. Emphasizing the importance of the environment, Lhasa City is striving to improve its urban environment; it encourages the public, with families as units, to take part in related community activities, and organizes volunteers to clean the streets and protect the natural ecology. Similar campaigns have also been rolled out in farming and pastoral areas, where villagers and residents are grouped as volunteers to keep their villages clean, plant trees, and protect water sources and wildlife.
Gannan Prefecture in Gansu Province is working to be a model area of ecological conservation by enacting strict measures on water source protection, damage compensation and accountability. Much is being done to improve the environmental management and ecological remediation systems, and strengthen the guiding role of ecological progress. To enhance public awareness of environmental protection, the prefecture has included eco-education in the online study materials for its officials. It has also compiled various eco-education readings to distribute to elementary and secondary school students, Party and government officials, and farmers and herdsmen, opened a website on ecological education, aired eco-themed public-service advertisements, pushed text messages to mobile phones, and held writing contests on conservation.
Qinghai Province has issued the Opinions on Promoting Green Lifestyles in Qinghai, and held major campaigns to clean the Sanjiangyuan area and protect the environment of Qinghai Lake. The government encourages the public to abandon outdated habits and embrace new and green lifestyles, enhance ecological awareness, and correctly understand the interdependent relationship between good ecology and sound development.
Green lifestyle is bedding in.
As ecological awareness spreads on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, fewer farmers and herdsmen keep livestock in their houses or burn firewood and dung for heating. Green housing, green energy, living on clean energy, and green travel have become increasingly popular lifestyle habits.
On the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, new energy is being used for a diversity of purposes. Solar energy and other new energy have been widely applied in heating, cooking, lighting, irrigation, telecommunications, and other areas of daily life and work. In Tibet, passive solar housing is one of the first solar technologies introduced – it first appeared in Ali, Naqu and Lhasa in the 1980s. In addition to providing heating in winter, solar housing offers a better home environment and raises people’s living standards. Energy conservation and environmental protection have become important factors for farmers and herdsmen on the Plateau to consider when they build houses. By the end of 2017 clean energy – mainly water power, solar energy and biogas – contributed 87 percent of the total installed capacity of electricity in Tibet Autonomous Region. There were more than 400,000 solar stoves in use, with solar water heating systems covering 450,000 sq m of floor space and passive solar housing some 420,000 sq m. All of this is reducing the public’s reliance on traditional fuels.
In Qinghai, provincial-level programs have been initiated in farming and pastoral areas to promote passive solar housing, solar stoves, solar water heaters, solar batteries, and household wind turbines, and to replace the burning of coal and dung with electricity for heating. By the end of 2017, support from the province had resulted in the use of 102,200 solar stoves, 12,800 solar water heaters, and 9,200 sets of solar batteries; 13,100 passive solar housing units had been built as demonstration projects, totaling 1,305,000 sq m. Electric and photovoltaic heating have gradually replaced dung and coal-burning, contributing to reduced pollutant emissions, a better home environment, and higher living standards. This has also reined in excess exploitation of grasslands, beneficial to the remediation and improvement of the grassland ecosystem.
In villages on the Plateau, a number of measures have been taken to improve the environment. By building modern-standard toilets, livestock pens, and housing, and undertaking domestic garbage collection and disposal, domestic wastewater collection and treatment, drinking water source protection, efficient crop stalk utilization, noise abatement, and human and livestock feces pollution control, the local governments have effectively addressed such problems as random dumping of garbage, illegal construction or extension of houses, unauthorized mining, and open-air burning of crop stalks. People on the Plateau now enjoy better housing, drinking water and transport, and a clean environment and convenient facilities.
In 2017, shared bicycle services entered Lhasa. These bicycles quickly became a favored choice for the locals when they needed to go somewhere, adding flavor to the city’s charms. In Lhasa, Xining and other high-altitude cities, the number of new-energy vehicles keeps increasing; in core protection areas such as the Qomolangma and Napa Lake transport services are provided by new-energy vehicles. Green transport and tourism have become the preferred options of the public.
Confidence in the ecological culture is getting enhanced.
The beauty of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, its sound ecological base, and the progress made in conservation have significantly boosted local people’s confidence in their ecological culture. Eco-themed public campaigns in villages, on campus and in communities have breathed fresh air into the people’s lives and lifted their spirit. People are increasingly active in joining ecological efforts, and are more content with life and have a greater sense of gain. They are proud of the ice and snow as much as the green mountains and clear water.
By 2017, 10 counties, 173 towns and townships, and 1,924 villages in Tibet had been designated as models of eco-preservation at the provincial level. Bayi District in Nyingchi City became one of the first state-level model counties for ecological progress. In Qinghai, 1,200 villages were honored “beautiful plateau villages”, and Xining became a state-level forest city. In Aba Prefecture, Sichuan Province, one county was selected as the provincial eco-progress model, 16 towns were commended as eco-progress models at state level, 50 towns and 30 villages at provincial level. In Deqen Prefecture of Yunnan, 45 eco-progress villages have been selected as eco-progress models at prefectural level. In Gannan Prefecture of Gansu Province, the figures were two towns and 14 villages at national level, and 14 towns and 11 villages at provincial level. These achievements have not only improved people’s living conditions and daily life, but also enhanced their commitment to safeguarding the serenity of the Plateau.
In 2017, at the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee, Hoh Xil of Qinghai Province was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List, making it China’s largest and highest natural heritage site. In its assessment report, the World Conservation Union took note of Hoh Xil’s expansive natural beauty – free of human activity – describing it as “an amazing scene to behold”. Hoh Xil’s inclusion in the World Heritage List has succeeded in raising public awareness of nature and wildlife, further boosting their sense of responsibility and pride in ecological conservation.
Through years of rigorous effort, marked progress has been made in ecological conservation on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The function of the Plateau as an eco-safety barrier has been further consolidated, with increased levels of regional sustainability and public wellbeing.
That said, the Plateau still faces many ecological challenges. The main ones are glacier retreat, melting permafrost, and other growing disaster risks due to global warming, and prominent contradictions between protection and development in the course of economic growth. We still face an arduous task in consolidating and furthering our ecological achievements.
In the future, China will continue to work on the following measures:
• reform its environmental monitoring system,
• promote institutional reform in ecological conservation,
• efficiently control human activity,
• restore the ecology and environment through major programs,
• improve the eco-safety barrier system,
• strive to solve pressing ecological and environmental problems,
• refine the low-carbon and circular economy and safe and efficient energy system,
• transform the approach to daily life and work,
• promote green development,
• improve the functions of the plateau eco-culture platform, and
• spread the idea of ecological conservation.
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is a wealth endowed by nature to the Chinese people and humanity as a whole. It is the Chinese people’s responsibility to protect the ecology of the Plateau. At the 19th National Congress of the CPC, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping pointed out, “The modernization that we pursue is one characterized by harmonious coexistence between man and nature. In addition to creating more material and cultural wealth to meet people’s ever-increasing expectation of a better life, we need also to provide more quality ecological goods to meet people’s ever-growing demands for a beautiful environment.” Ecological progress on the Plateau in the new era is an important component of the Beautiful China initiative. The Chinese people are committed to making the Plateau an even more beautiful place, and to realizing harmonious coexistence between man and nature.