VII. Enhancing Ecological Progress
Situated at the heart of the Earth’s “Third Pole”, Tibet plays a strategic role in maintaining the global ecological balance by protecting its plateau ecology. Over the years the central and regional governments have always given top priority to protecting the eco-environment on the plateau, promoting a series of plans and programs.
– Strengthening effort in ecological protection
In old Tibet, with an extremely underdeveloped economy, people could only adapt to the natural environment – they used whatever they could exploit from nature. As society and the economy develop, and especially with global warming on the rise, it has become a matter of urgency to protect the eco-environment in Tibet. In response to such a situation, the central and regional governments have taken a number of measures to address the problem. In 1975 the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region established a leading group on environmental protection, and then in 1983, set up a regional-level environmental protection department. Afterwards, with improvements in organization, management, laws and regulations, Tibet embarked on a path of sound development that supported ecological and environmental progress. The regional government has issued a series of local regulations, including the Regulations of the Tibet Autonomous Region for Environmental Protection, Regulations of the Tibet Autonomous Region on the Prevention and Control of Atmospheric Pollution, and Measures of the Tibet Autonomous Region on the Supervision and Administration of Ecological and Environmental Protection; released measures for implementing state laws and regulations, such as the Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Nature Reserves, Water Law of the People’s Republic of China, Law of the People’s Republic of China on Water and Soil Conservation, and Grassland Law of the People’s Republic of China; and guiding opinions such as the Opinions on Building a Beautiful Tibet and the Opinions on Building a National Eco-Barrier and Accelerating Ecological Progress. All of these have provided a legal basis for developing nature and wetland reserves, protecting wild fauna and flora, conserving and managing water resources, conserving water and soil, preventing and controlling desertification, returning farmland and pastureland to woods and grassland, and protecting grassland ecology. In 2017, the regional government issued the Decision to Promote Greening by Tree-Planting and Afforestation, which proposed that every person should plant an average of five trees, and that all households and villages should take part in tree-planting.
– Enlarging nature reserves and ecological reserves
Since the Qomolangma Nature Reserve was established in 1988, Tibet has set up 47 nature reserves of all kinds, including 11 at state level. The total area of nature reserves is 412,200 sq km – more than 34.35 percent of the total area of the autonomous region. There are 22 eco-protection areas, including one at state level, 36 counties in receipt of transfer payments from central finance for their key ecological roles, four national scenic areas, nine national forest parks, 22 national wetland parks, and three national geoparks. The central government has continued to increase eco-compensation for Tibet in return for its cost for protecting the eco-environment and the consequent losses in development opportunities. Since 2001, the central government has paid 31.6 billion yuan in eco-compensation to the autonomous region for protecting forests, grassland, wetland, and key ecological reserves.
– Restoring biodiversity
Significant progress has been made in Tibet’s eco-safety barrier project and the afforestation project in the watersheds of the Yarlung Zangbo River, Nujiang River, Lhasa River, Nianchu River, Yalong River, and Shiquan River. Currently the autonomous region has 16.02 million ha of forests (including woodland, shrubland and other types of forestland), with a forest coverage rate of 12.14 percent and a growing forest stock of 2.28 billion cu m. The comprehensive vegetation coverage of natural grassland has reached 45.9 percent, the area of natural grassland is 88.93 million ha, and the area of wetland is 6.53 million ha. Tibet has 141 wild animals under state and regional protection, 38 wild plants under state protection, and 196 animals, 855 plant, and 22 avian species unique to the region. Key ecological system is under effective protection. The population of Tibetan antelopes has grown from 60,000 in the 1990s to more than 200,000. Tibetan wild donkeys have increased in numbers from 50,000 to 80,000, black-necked cranes from 3,000 to 8,000, and wild yaks from 7,000 to 10,000.
– Improving living environment for residents
Tibet has initiated a series of environmental protection projects, including the comprehensive control of drainage basins, improvement of the living environment of rural and urban residents, the prevention and control of pollution caused by industry and mining, the comprehensive control of construction linking rivers, lakes and reservoirs, and a piloted water ecology project in Nagqu City, effectively protecting the clear waters and blue skies of Tibet. Officials of relevant governments are designated to be responsible for governance of each river and each lake. The autonomous region has created pioneering ecological reserves in the headwater areas of rivers, and initiated environmental governance and eco-restoration projects in Lake Namtso, Yamdrok Lake and other key lake basins. With state support, Tibet has made concerted efforts to create more livable cities and towns, and moved faster in building infrastructure such as household waste treatment and sewage plants. By the end of 2018, there were 106 solid waste landfills to treat household waste from cities and towns with a daily capacity of more than 2,240 tons, and 89 household waste transfer facilities with a daily capacity in excess of 470 tons. There were 16 urban sewage treatment plants with a daily capacity of 374,000 tons and 903 km of pipe network. The rates of clean disposal of household waste and wastewater at and above the county seat level have now surpassed 90 percent and 60 percent. Moreover, efforts have been made to improve the overall environment in rural areas, promote the greening of urban and rural communities, and address such problems as inefficient waste sorting, noise pollution, sewage drainage, and crop-stalk burning. Since 2010, the autonomous region has spent more than 6 billion yuan to improve the living environment and the overall environment in 6,223 villages, with positive results. Currently all the major rivers and lakes in Tibet remain in their natural state, 95.7 percent of key waters have reached the national water standards, 97.5 percent of days are rated as “excellent” or “good” in terms of air quality, and ratings of air quality in the Qomolangma region are being maintained at either “excellent” or “good”, with Grade I air quality.