China's Tibet Autonomous Region is situated on the main body of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. With high altitude, unique geographical features and rich wildlife, water and mineral resources, it has been called the "Roof of the World" and the "Third Pole of the Earth." It is not only the "source of rivers" and the "ecological source" for the areas in South and Southeast Asia, but is also the"starter" and "regulating area" of the climate of China and indeed of the Eastern Hemisphere as a whole.
The Chinese government attaches great importance to ecological improvement and environmental protection in Tibet. It has made tremendous efforts to strengthen ecological improvement and environmental protection work in Tibet, promote the sustainable development of its economy and society, and improve the quality of life of the people of its various ethnic groups. For over half a century, ecological improvement and environmental protection in Tibet, as an important part of the effort to modernize Tibet, has,together with economic development, social progress and enhancement of people's living standards, pressed forward and made great achievements. It would help clarify some people's misunderstanding concerning Tibet's eco-environmental problem and enhance their understanding of Tibet to review the progress of the ecological improvement and environmental protection work in Tibet,to present the status of this undertaking, and to envisage the prospects of sustainable development for the region.
I. Progress of the Ecological Improvement and Environmental Protection Work in Tibet
The Tibet Autonomous Region is 1.22 million sq. km in area, with an average altitude of well over 4,000 m above sea level. It boasts a unique natural ecology and geographical environment. The climate in Tibet turns gradually from being warm and moist to cold and dry from its southeast toward its northwest. Ecologically, the changes are manifested in belts from forest, bush, meadow and steppe to desert. The complex and varied terrains and landforms as well as the unique type of ecological system have created a natural paradise for biodiversity.
The old Tibet before the 1950s had long been under the rule of feudal serfdom. The development level of its productive forces was extremely low, and it was, by and large, in a state of passive adaptation to natural conditions and one-way exploitation of natural resources. It was absolutely impossible to discuss the objective law of the ecological environment of Tibet, or to talk about ecological improvement and environmental protection. From the latter half of the 19th century, some foreign explorers and scientists conducted various surveys and investigations on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. In the 1930s, Chinese scientists also carried out some surveys and investigations there. But, generally speaking, their knowledge of the unique natural eco-environment of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau was incomplete and unsystematic.
It was after the peaceful liberation of Tibet that ecological improvement and environmental protection started there, and began to progress along with the modernization of Tibet.
-- The peaceful liberation initiated the process of scientific understanding, voluntary protection and active improvement of the ecological environment in Tibet. Shortly after the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, in order to unveil the mysteries of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and promote Tibet's social progress and development, the Central People's Government organized the "Tibet Work Team of the Government Administration Council" (on the basis of which the "Tibet Comprehensive Exploration Team of the Chinese Academy of Sciences"was established in 1958), to explore and assess land, forest, pastureland, water conservancy and mineral resources in Tibet. The work team put forward a proposal for scientific development and utilization, which started the process of scientific understanding,utilization and protection of the ecological environment in Tibet.
At the same time, ecological improvement and environmental protection work gradually unfolded, with the aim of improving the subsistence conditions on the Tibet Plateau. The State sent forestry specialists to explore parts of the Yarlungzangbo River Valley, and carried out experiments in the cultivation of tree saplings and afforestation at the July 1 Farm in the western suburbs of Lhasa, which laid the foundation for large-scale afforestation and ecological improvement in Tibet. After the implementation of the Democratic Reform in 1959, a mass voluntary tree-planting drive using local tree species as the main breeds was launched in a big way in Tibet. Such afforestation efforts enabled the people in Tibet to achieve a qualitative leap from the centuries-old passive adaptation to natural conditions to remaking nature on their own initiative.
After the founding of the People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region in September 1965, ecological improvement and environmental protection were put on government agenda and thus organizationally guaranteed, along with the progress of work in all spheres achieved by the people's democratic government. In 1975, the Leading Group for Environmental Protection of the Tibet Autonomous Region and its General Office were established. In 1983,the Urban and Rural Construction and Environmental Protection Department under the government of the Autonomous Region was established. Since then, the organizational structure and administrative systems have kept improving, and ecological improvement and environmental protection work in Tibet has gradually got onto the track of sound development.
The comprehensive scientific surveys on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau have helped people to learn about Tibet's natural eco-environment in a more systematic and profound manner. As a result,ecological improvement work in Tibet began to make substantial headway. The Chinese Academy of Sciences formulated the "Comprehensive Scientific Survey Plan for the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau for 1973-1980." In 1972, the Academy held the "Symposium on Scientific Survey in the Mt. Qomolangma Area," the first ever, in Lanzhou. In the wake of this symposium, all types of comprehensive or specialized academic conferences in respect of the natural eco-environment of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau were held one after the other, accompanied by a large number of academic achievements. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Comprehensive Scientific Survey Series alone contains 31 titles in 42 volumes, amounting to a grand total of some 17 million characters. These scientific achievements have provided a scientific basis for making better use of natural resources in the economic development of Tibet, and for continuous improvement of the human living environment. In 1977, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry organized for the first time an all-round survey of the forestry resources across Tibet. Since 1978, to meet the requirements of afforestation, some 50 sapling farms have been set up in various places, introducing, naturalizing and cultivating scores of tree breeds suitable for Tibet.
-- The reform and opening-up has enabled ecological improvement and environmental protection work in Tibet to progress in a law-governed manner. After the reform and opening-up policy was adopted some two decades ago, as Tibet has grown more modern, greater attention has been given to the Autonomous Region's ecological improvement and environmental protection, which is progressing steadily in a law-governed manner. In the 13 years from 1982 to 1994, the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region,and the People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region and its various departments enacted and implemented more than 30 relevant local regulations, governmental standardization documents, and departmental rules and regulations, which formed a relatively systematic local legal regime concerning environmental protection.As far as the contents were concerned, they included comprehensive regulations concerning ecological and environmental protection, such as the "Regulations for Environmental Protection in the Tibet Autonomous Region", as well as special regulations for different areas of ecological and environmental protection, such as land management, mineral resources administration, forest protection, grassland protection and control, water and soil conservation, wild animals protection, nature reserves administration, and pollution treatment. These rules and regulations covered almost all areas in ecological and environmental protection, so that there were laws to go by in all these spheres.
The State has directly invested in comprehensive agricultural development projects on the middle reaches of the "three rivers" (the Yarlungzangbo, Lhasa and Nyangqu rivers), with the emphasis on the improvement of the ecological environment, and has achieved noticeable ecological results. With regard to tree-planting and grass-growing on barren mountains, hillsides and beaches, the government has enacted a special policy featuring "the lasting and inheritable practice of whoever reclaims the land shall be entitled to operate and get benefit from it." This has encouraged local people to plant trees and grow grass, and guaranteed the rights and interests due to them in eco-environmental amelioration.Investigations on the current status of the ecological environment in the areas of land, wild fauna and flora, plant, insect and wetland resources have been successfully carried out. Eco-environment researchers have begun to monitor and trace the impact of human activities on the ecological environment, carried out various projects such as dynamic remote-sensing monitoring of the eco-environment for comprehensive agricultural development on the middle reaches of the "three rivers", overall survey of the grain pollution caused by residual organochlorine, and investigation on the sources of industrial pollution, and have proposed relevant policies and measures for pollution prevention and control.
Publicity and education concerning ecological improvement and environmental protection have been widely carried out, striking deep roots in the hearts of the people. The media, including radio,television, newspapers and the Internet, have given wide coverage to afforestation, wild animals and plants preservation, and environmental protection. Important commemorative events, such as World Wetlands Day, Arbor Day, Earth Day, World Environment Day and World Desertification and Drought Control Day have drawn the attention of people from all walks of life in Tibet. Lessons on ecological improvement and environmental protection are given in schools, and an effort to establish "green schools" is in full swing.
-- Concern from the Central Government and support from people throughout the country have enabled Tibet to embark upon a new phase in its ecological improvement and environmental protection undertakings. The Central Government called the Third Forum on Work in Tibet in 1994, and made an important decision to extend the support of the whole nation to Tibet under the care of the Central Government, which has given a powerful impetus to accelerating the ecological improvement and environmental protection work there.
Since the 1990s, the State Environmental Protection Administration has organized environmental protection departments throughout the country to support Tibet in enhancing its environmental protection capability, helped build environment monitoring stations in the Autonomous Region, in the cities of Lhasa and Xigaze and in Qamdo Prefecture, helped train large numbers of technical and administrative personnel in the field of environmental protection, and helped formulate an ecological protection and pollution control plan. In the "National Plan for Eco-environmental Improvement" and the "National Program for Eco-environmental Protection" formulated by the State Council respectively in 1998 and 2000, great attention has been paid to ecological improvement and environmental protection in Tibet, and a separate plan has been drawn up to make the freeze thawing zone on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau one of the country's eight major areas for ecological improvement, complete with the proposition of a suite of explicit tasks and principles for work in this regard. On the basis of this, the People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region formulated the "Eco-environmental Improvement Plan of the Tibet Autonomous Region" in 2000, which has provided an overall program and arrangement for Tibet's eco-environmental improvement. After the State decided to adopt the great western development strategy, the Central Government held the Fourth Forum on Work in Tibet in 2001, and further increased investment in ecological improvement projects in Tibet. From the perspective of attaining sustainable development in Tibet, it has been expressly stipulated that tourism and green agriculture be developed as the pillar industries for promoting economic growth in Tibet.
II. Ecological Improvement and Biodiversity Protection
The positive efforts made by the Tibet Autonomous Region for ecological improvement and biodiversity protection in the past five decades or more have been crowned with signal success.
-- Natural grassland is rationally utilized and the active grassland ecological protection is effective. Tibet contains one of the five largest pasturelands in China. It has 82.07 million hectares of natural grassland, representing about 21% of the total natural grassland of the country and 68.11% of the total land area of Tibet. According to the first national survey of grassland resources, the variety of grassland in Tibet ranks first among all provinces and autonomous regions. Of the 18 types of grassland in the country, Tibet has 17. To protect the grassland ecology is an important link in preserving a complete and orderly chain of ecology on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
Though the grassland area in Tibet is very large, its carrying capacity is low. Grassland overload was not significant in the old days in Tibet, because of stagnant population growth, frequent natural calamities, and massive human and livestock deaths in times of snowstorms and other natural disasters. Since the peaceful liberation of Tibet, the average life-span of the local population has expanded remarkably, the population has kept increasing, and as a result the issue of insufficient grass to feed the ever-growing livestock population has begun to appear. Consequently, to keep an ecological balance on the pastureland has gradually become a prominent problem. To ease the contradictions between human beings and farm animals and between grass supply and farm animals, Tibet has taken a succession of measures to strengthen the rational utilization and ecological protection of natural grassland. First, emphasis has been placed on fencing and building water conservancy projects on natural grassland, and raising both the output level of grassland and its carrying capacity per unit area. Secondly, a pasture responsibility system has been implemented. In line with the principle of limiting the number of grazing animals by the size of the pasture, rotation grazing periods, rotation grazing areas and "no-grazing areas" have been designated. Efforts have been made to increase the market availability rate of the livestock and to effectively protect natural pastures by strictly prohibiting over-grazing. Thirdly, man-made grassland is being promoted so as to ease the pressure brought to bear on natural grassland by the ever-growing livestock population. Fourthly, efforts are being intensified to prevent or control hazards caused by mice, insects and poisonous weeds, and to maintain the natural ecological balance of the grassland by utilizing scientific means, and artificial and biological technologies. Fifthly, to enhance grassland amelioration in the pastoral areas, change the nomadic way of production, speed up economic development in pastoral areas and improve herdsmen's living standards, projects to construct grassland in the pastoral areas, build permanent settlements for roving herdsmen, and restore and improve natural grassland have been launched since 2001. These measures not only have steadily raised the income of farmers and herdsmen and enhanced their living standards, but also ensured the sound development of the grassland ecology.
-- Protecting natural forest resources, carrying out afforestation and improving the ecological environment. Tibet boasts 7.17 million ha. of forest, and the stocking volume has reached 2.091 billion cu m. Tibet has the largest primitive forest in China. To protect Tibet's ecological environment, the government exercises a "felling by quota" policy, and strictly controls the scale of tree-felling in forests. The annual felling amount for commercial purpose is limited to 150,000 cu m. Simultaneously, a rotation system is in place for lumbering bases so as to help restore vegetation. A project for the protection of natural forest resources on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River in Tibet, with a total area of 31,000 sq. km, has been implemented in the three counties of Jomda, Gonjo and Markam that have a weighty bearing on the ecology of the lower Yangtze valley. In 28 counties along the upper reaches of the Jinsha, Lancang and Nujiang rivers and the catchment area of the Yarlungzangbo River, where the hazards of sandstorm and soil erosion are serious, a project to restore farmland to forest is being undertaken, under which 52,000 ha. of cultivated land will be restored to forest and trees planted on 53,000 ha. of barren mountains and wasteland. By 2002, some 6,700 ha. of cultivated land had been restored to forest and 6,700 ha. of barren mountains and wasteland afforested.The government is also striving to promote the development of energy substitutes and fuel forests, and popularize solar energy in order to protect natural bush vegetation.
It has become the conscious action of the people in Tibet to join afforestation efforts. The government of the Tibet Autonomous Region has formulated the "Forestation Plan of the Tibet Autonomous Region" and the "Opinions on Acceleration of Afforestation." The people of the whole region are making efforts by starting with the improvement of their living environments, first of all by greening their courtyards, streets and urban environment in general, and eventually building green belts in river catchment areas where human activities are concentrated, and along major highways. The results have been remarkable. According to a survey, over the past 50-plus years some 70,000 ha. of land have been afforested in Tibet, 90 million trees have been planted beside villages, houses, roads and waterways, and 1.5 million cashtrees have been grown.
Afforestation and ecological projects have been launched steadily. Implementation of the key projects, such as the afforestation project in Lhasa and its outskirts, the construction of the shelter-forest system of the Yarlungzangbo River, the pilot project of the Yangtze River shelter-forest system in Markam and the pilot project for controlling sand by afforestation in Xigaze,has, to a great extent, improved the natural eco-environment of those localities. Since 1996, the State has begun to build a shelter-forest system along the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze River. By 2000, it had invested more than 3.7 million yuan in the project, actively supporting Tibet in building man-made forests and sealing off mountainous areas to facilitate afforestation as appropriate to local conditions. The afforested area has topped 13,000 ha., which, as a result, has played a positive role in improving local residents' working and living conditions. Following implementation of the project for the construction of the shelter-forest system of the Yarlungzangbo River, which is part of the key "three rivers" agricultural development undertaking, a man-made forest belt measuring several hundred km from Xigaze to Zetang on the upper reaches of the Yarlungzangbo River has been formed. Now, a new spectacular scene,the belt plays a positive role in conserving water and topsoil along the Yarlungzangbo River.
Due to the effective protection of natural forest resources and afforestation, the forest coverage in Tibet has kept growing. It has grown from less than 1% in the 1950s to 5.93% today, and has played a positive role in improving the Autonomous Region's ecological environment. According to reports from relevant monitoring departments, due to the increase in man-made vegetation,the number of sandstorm days has decreased noticeably in Tibet. Currently, it is 32 days fewer in Lhasa, 34 days fewer in Xigaze and 32 days fewer in Zetang, than 30 years ago.
-- Comprehensive control of soil erosion has brought noticeable achievements. The Tibet Plateau belongs to the alpine cold meadow and steppe landscape, which is characterized by poor water and soil conservation and vulnerability to serious soil erosion. Over the past 50 years, soil erosion in Tibet has been effectively controlled by afforestation and construction of water conservancy projects. In recent years in particular, the State and the Tibet Autonomous Region have increased their investment in soil erosion control, which has yielded highly desirable results. By the end of 2001, the State had invested more than 36.8 million yuan in Tibet,built 53,000 ha. of forests to conserve water and topsoil, grown grass on 67,000 ha., harnessed soil erosion on 1,166 sq. km, and launched a comprehensive control project in the Radoigou small catchment area in Quxu County, Lhasa, and implemented comprehensive control projects for conserving water and topsoil in Gyangze and Nyemo counties. Simultaneously, the Tibet Autonomous Region has formulated the "Plan for Conservation of Water and Topsoil in Tibet" and several other plans in respect of water and soil conservation and soil erosion control, promulgated the "Measures of Administration for Water and Soil Conservation Projects in the Tibet Autonomous Region," and made prevention, supervision and protection the top priority of the water and soil conservation work, in order to prevent new soil erosion caused by human activities. To enable the comprehensive control of soil erosion to be carried out in a more scientific way, the Tibet Autonomous Region launched, in 2001, the construction of a water and soil conservation monitoring network with an investment of more than 60 million yuan to provide overall monitoring for soil erosion across Tibet.
-- Achievements have been made in desertification prevention and control. Sandstorms have afflicted Tibet throughout its history. Now, as a result of the expansion of the hole in the ozone layer caused by global warming, Tibet has been facing problems of rising snowlines,dried-up lakes, and deteriorated grassland in recent years. In some areas in Tibet, pastureland has suffered a natural deterioration, and some of it has been reduced to sand and stone. To control pastureland deterioration and desertification, Tibet has begun to improve the environment of its rivers, with the emphasis on improving small river valleys and the desertification of deteriorated pastureland. With the goal of establishing a relatively good ecological system of forestry and grassland, Tibet has adopted measures consisting of afforestation, aerial sowing and closing off hillsides to facilitate afforestation. It has planted trees, bushes and grass on a large scale near rivers and in areas that have been hit most seriously by pastureland deterioration and desertification. Projects to protect the natural forests and wetlands, and to reconvert farmland into forest or pasture have been carried out on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. In 2002, the goal was to reconvert some 13,000 ha. of farmland into forest. The Central Government provided 10 million yuan as subsidy for seedlings, and 15 million kg of grain and two million yuan as allowance for families of farmers and herdsmen whose farmland had been restored to forest. Trees were planted in the vicinity of Lhasa, and in important agricultural areas forest shelter belts were built around the fields to reduce soil erosion by sand. These measures have brought the ever-expanding desertification threat under control.
-- Great progress has been made in protection of biodiversity. Tibet is one of the most typically biodiverse regions in the world.It is an important gene pool for the biodiversity of the globe. At present, there are over 9,600 wild plants in Tibet, 39 of which are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and are under special State protection as rare and endangered species. There are 798 species of vertebrates and nearly 4,000 species of insects in Tibet, 125 of which are under special State protection, accounting for more than one third of the wild animals under special State protection.Approximately 600 species of higher plants and more than 200 species of terrestrial vertebrates are endemic to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
Over the past 50-plus years, the Central Government and the regional government of Tibet have conducted extensive surveys on Tibet's biological resources. They have worked out scientific plans and programs for the protection of wild animals and plants. They have also adopted a sequence of measures for effective protection of the rare and endangered species. In accordance with the relevant State laws and regulations, the Tibet Autonomous Region has established forest law enforcement organs and the Tibet Armed Police Forestry Contingent. They have conducted the "Hohxil Action Number One" and other special campaigns in the border areas of Qinghai, Xinjiang and Tibet to protect the Tibetan antelope and other rare animals. These campaigns have dealt a heavy blow to poachers and curbed law-violation activities that have done damage to wild animal resources. Meanwhile, the State has invested millions of yuan each year in infrastructure facilities for forest security and forest fire prevention in Tibet. In 2002, the State set aside 3.66 million yuan from its national debt revenue for a special project aimed at cracking down on poachers of Tibetan antelopes. It has also strengthened publicity on the protection of wild animals. Now people in Tibet are highly conscious of the importance of protecting wild animals, and the once rampant hunting of Tibetan antelopes has been brought under control.
Over the past 50 years or more, not one species in Tibet has suffered extinction. Biodiversity is effectively maintained, and biological types are continuously enriched. Red deer, generally considered by the international animal research community to have vanished in the 20th century, were discovered again in Tibet in the 1990s, and their numbers are increasing. As Tibet opens wider to the outside world, non-native creatures such as carp, crucian carp, eel and loach, high-productivity and quality cattle, sheep, pigs, chicken, ducks, as well as corn, watermelons and vegetables have been introduced from the inland areas to Tibet, where they are thriving today.
-- Great achievements have been made in the establishment of nature reserves. Establishing nature reserves is an important method used by Tibet to strengthen ecological improvement and environmental protection work and implement the strategy of sustainable development. Since the 1980s, Tibet has established more than 70 nature reserves of different types. Of these, three are on the national level (four more national-level nature reserves are being planned) and 15 are on the autonomous region (provincial) level. The total area of the 18 nature reserves is 401,000 sq. km, accounting for 33.4% of the land area of Tibet and 30.8% of the total area of China's nature reserves. In addition, prefectures and prefecture-level cities in Tibet have established over 50 nature reserves of the corresponding level. A rationally distributed nature protection network of different types is basically in place. In light of the general program and requirements of the State, the People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region is carrying out the "Development Plan for Nature Reserves in the Tibet Autonomous Region for 1996-2010." It is expected that 28 new nature reserves at or above the autonomous region level will be established before 2010. By then, all types of nature reserves other than sea and seashore ecosystem ones will be found in Tibet.
In order to restore the natural ecosystem, human activities such as economic development are strictly limited in the established nature reserves. As a result, the ecological environment in most of the nature reserves has become stable and the prospects are quite good. Breeding grounds, habitats and important ecosystems for rare and endangered species, important wetlands for migratory birds, as well as the natural landscapes, geological sites and biological sites of scientific importance are now well protected. All the 125 wild animals, 39 wild plants and typical geological features in Tibet that are on the State protection list are well preserved in the established nature reserves. The Tibet Autonomous Region has more than six million ha of wetland, accounting for about 4.9% of Tibet's total land area and ranking first in China. Its alpine wetlands are unique in the world. According to monitoring by the relevant departments, the number of both wild animals and plants in the nature reserves is obviously increasing, and the total reserves of wild animal resources have increased by upwards of 30%. Rare animals that had not been seen for many years have returned to their habitats. In the Changtang Nature Reserve, monitoring in the past few years has revealed that the numbers of wild animals such as Tibetan wild donkey, argali and antelope have increased to differing degrees. The number of Tibetan antelopes has reached 40,000 to 50,000 in the Nyima central reserve. After a nature reserve for black-necked cranes was established on the middle reaches of the Yarlungzangbo River, the number of black-necked cranes wintering there has increased each year, accounting for about 80% of the earth's total number of black-necked cranes.
III. Ecological Improvement and Environmental Protection amid Economic Development
The ecosystem in Tibet is extremely fragile, and the ability to resist disturbance and regenerate is weak. Once the ecosystem is damaged, it is hard to restore it for a long period of time. For more than 50 years Tibet has adhered to the strategy of sustainable development, ensuring the close combination and coordinated development of ecological improvement, environmental protection and economic construction. While the economy develops rapidly and the people's living standards are constantly rising, the ecological environment is being effectively protected. In accordance with the latest monitoring findings, the environment of water and the atmosphere in Tibet are basically unpolluted. The average annual concentration of suspended particles in the atmosphere of Tibet's cities is between 193 and 268 per cu m. No major environmental pollution accident has occurred in Tibet, and most of its major rivers and lakes are in a primordial state.
-- Environmental protection and ecological improvement are synchronized with agricultural production and development.In Tibet, the natural conditions for agriculture are poor, infrastructure is weak, grain productivity is low and the capability to withstand natural disasters is low. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen agricultural infrastructure construction, transform low- and medium-yield fields and improve the level of the agricultural ecosystem for agricultural production and development. With this aim in mind, the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region has endeavored to raise grain yield by improving the eco-environment for agricultural development. The government is helping farmers change their traditional cultivation habits of letting land lie idle after harvest -- a centuries-old practice known as "white fallow", which is detrimental to water and soil conservation. Rotation of grain and grass is adopted to increase the fertility of the soil and its ability to conserve water. While attention is paid to farmland water conservancy construction, a forest shelter network is being built to protect farmland from being eroded by sandstorms. As a result of persistent efforts, the rate of land usage in the major agricultural producers in central Tibet has increased greatly, and the level of soil erosion has declined markedly. Natural conditions like water and heat, which are fundamental to the growth of farm produce, have been improved.In 2000, surveys by experts found that the comprehensive eco-environment appraisal index of this area has gone up by 1.5 percentage points from 10 years ago. The improvement of the ecological environment has steadily increased agricultural productivity. By 2001, agriculture in Tibet had had bumper harvests for 14 years in a row. The total grain output had reached 982,500 tons, enough to make Tibet basically self-sufficient.
The State has invested a large sum of money on a series of comprehensive agricultural development projects in Tibet. It is making sure that while land areas are expanded, the ecological environment is improved at the same time. In the major construction projects, such as the comprehensive agricultural development project on the middle reaches of the "three rivers" with an investment of 1.2 billion yuan from the Central Government,environmental protection and ecological improvement are made key parts of the projects. Monitoring of the ecological environment incomprehensive agricultural development in the "three rivers" area in the past 10 years indicates that, due to an organic combination of biological and engineering measures, both the types and rate of land utilization and the acreage of man-made vegetation in the area have increased markedly. Desertification and soil erosion have been effectively checked, and the comprehensive index of the eco-environment quality has been raised by one to three grades. Comprehensive agricultural development has not only reaped significant economic benefits, but also resulted in good social and ecological benefits.
-- Industrial projects are selected carefully, and pollution prevention and control are strengthened. Industry was not developed at all in Tibet until after the region's peaceful liberation. Even today, there are few industrial enterprises in Tibet, and so industrial pollution is not much of a problem. In order to reduce the bad effects caused to the ecological environment by industrial development, the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region has adhered to the principle of placing equal emphasis on both industrial development and environmental protection. As industries are developed in the region, Tibet has made every effort to ensure that while they bring about economic profits they have social and environmental benefits as well. No industrial project is to be launched just because of its envisaged economic benefit or just because it will fill a gap in the field. To effectively combat pollution, the government has adopted a series of pollution-prevention measures to ensure that the development of modern industry does not damage the ecological environment. First, industrial pollution is dealt with through industrial restructuring, product-mix adjustment and technological transformation. For instance, the Lhasa Leather Factory has imported environmental-protection facilities along with advanced technologies and equipment from Germany. The Lhasa Brewery, which used to be a big polluter, has spent more than four million yuan on equipment to treat industrial sewage as part of its technological transformation efforts. As a result, its sewage discharge has met the specified standard. Second, supervision and management of the environment has been tightened. Rectification has been carried out in respect of enterprises that fail to meet the requirements for pollutant discharge. In accordance with the guiding principle of "opening big enterprises and shutting down small ones" for industrial restructuring, six vertical-kiln cement production lines in Lhasa proper, which used to be serious polluters, have been shut down. Enterprises causing serious pollution are barred from production, and outdated technologies and equipment prohibited by the State have been winnowed out.
-- Strengthening evaluation and management of the impact of resources development and major infrastructure construction projects on the ecological environment. A policy is implemented ensuring that no new construction, reconstruction and expansion projects shall be authorized unless an evaluation of their impact on the environment has been conducted. This policy and the system of the "three simultaneouses" (pollution prevention facilities are designed, built and commissioned simultaneously with the main project) are strictly enforced. More than 80% of medium-sized and large construction projects have gone through evaluation of their impact on the ecological environment. The Norbusa and Shangkasam chromite mining projects include eco-environmental protection as a key task in resources development. With respect to the hydropower station at Yamzhoyumco Lake, which has attracted the attention of the world, full consideration was given to the protection of the ecological environment, starting from the decision to build the station to its design and construction. Since this hydropower station was put into operation, electricity generation has not caused the water level in the lake to drop, which would have harmed the natural eco-environment of the lake.
-- Much attention has been paid to the comprehensive treatment of the ecological environment in urban areas in order to improve people's living environment in areas with dense population. The comprehensive management of the ecological environment in cities and towns has always been stressed in ecological improvement and environmental protection work in Tibet. To guarantee the quality of the atmospheric environment, Tibet is actively popularizing the use of non-polluting energy sources in cities and towns, and phasing out fuels such as faggot, ox dung, coal and oil currently being commonly used by local residents. It encourages people to adopt natural gas as fuel for daily use. By 2001, the number of liquefied petroleum gas users in Lhasa and Xigaze had increased to 44,600 households, accounting for 83% of their combined total. At the same time, Tibet is actively using clean energy sources like water, geothermal, solar and wind energies. A pattern featuring water energy as the main energy source complemented by other types of energies has initially been formed, and has been a great help to the protection of the ecological environment. The amount of solar energy used in Tibet each year is equivalent to that provided by 130,000 tons of standard coal. In Lhasa and Xigaze, 1,693.6 ha. of land are covered by trees or grass, and 47.48 ha. are public green areas. The rate of green coverage in established districts is 23.5%. Construction of plumbing and treatment of sewage has been pushed ahead in urban areas, and 679,460 m of water supply pipes and 392,770 m of sewage pipes have been laid. The government has invested 51.2794 million yuan in building Lhasa's garbage disposal plants, and garbage disposal facilities for other cities are being actively planned.
-- Devoting major efforts to the development of tourism and other specialty industries that are beneficial to the protection of the ecological environment. Developing specialty industries with relatively little impact on the ecological environment has always been an important policy in accelerating the economic development of Tibet. With its unique natural geographical and cultural environments, Tibet enjoys a nature-endowed advantage in developing tourism and other tertiary industries. In 1996, the People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region adopted the "Decision on Speeding Up the Development of Tourism", and put tourism -- one of the Autonomous Region's pillar industries -- in a prominent place and developed it vigorously. In 2001, Tibet played host to 686,100 domestic and foreign tourists, its earnings from tourism totaling 750 million yuan and its earning of foreign exchange reaching 46.38 million US dollars. Some 6,506 people are directly involved in the tourist industry, while more than 30,000 people are indirectly involved. The status of tourism in Tibet's economy is rising. Although tourism pollutes the environment to only a very small extent, the local government has paid much attention to problems arising from the damage to the ecosystem and from environmental pollution in the development of tourism. Tourism and environmental protection departments are actively taking measures to collect, classify and dispose of garbage left in scenic spots to prevent pollution of the eco-environment. Garbage bins have even been set up at the harsh Mt. Qomolangma mountaineering headquarters. Garbage left by climbers and tourists is collected, removed and disposed of periodically.
IV. Building an Ecology-Friendly Railway Line -- the Qinghai-Tibet Railway
There was no highway in Tibet before its peaceful liberation. Economic and social contacts in Tibet and its contacts with the outside world depended solely on human power and draft animals, as well as post roads. Now, a transportation network consisting of 24,000 km of highways, a dozen air routes and more than 1,000 km of pipelines has been completed. Still, Tibet remains the only autonomous region (province) in China inaccessible by rail. Transportation has long been a bottleneck holding back the economic and social development of Tibet and hindering the improvement of the people's living standards. Building the Qinghai-Tibet Railway has been the long-cherished wish of people of all ethnic groups in Tibet. It is not only essential for strengthening links between Tibet and the hinterland, accelerating the economic and social development of Tibet and improving the local people's material and cultural well-being, but is also of great significance for enhancing ethnic unity and common prosperity.
On June 29, 2001, with the approval of the Central Government, construction of the section between Golmud and Lhasa began as part of the second phase of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway project. This railway line will be 1,142 km long, and will involve an investmentof 26.21 billion yuan. It will take six years to complete. Making the Qinghai-Tibet Railway an ecology-friendly railway line was the goal set at the time the project was appraised.
-- During the initial research period, an appraisal of the impact of the railway line on the environment was carefully conducted. In the initial period of the project, relevant departments chose several aspects that would affect the ecological environment, and conducted intensive research. On the basis of this research and with arrangement by the Chinese government, specialists from various fields carried out in-depth on-the-spot investigations, and conducted a sound scientific appraisal of the impact of the railway building on Tibet's ecology and environment in light of the requirements of the environmental protection, water and soil conservation, and wild animals protection laws, and those of the "National Plan for Eco-environmental Improvement", and the "National Program for Eco-environmental Protection." They compiled a report and some other documents, offering their appraisals of the environmental impacts, together with proposals for protection of the ecological environment. In light of the requirements of the appraisal, a guideline for the construction of the project was worked out, i.e., "giving priority to prevention and protection and attaching equal importance to both development and protection." The result of the appraisal of the ecological environment was used to guide the designing and construction of the railway line and its environmental management. Some 1.2 billion yuan will be spent on environmental protection facilities for the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, a record sum in this aspect for rail construction in China.
-- At the design stage of this railway line, protection of the ecological environment was the deciding factor in the plan for the project. Protection of the ecological environment has been an essential concern in the design of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. The routes were selected so that they would keep away from the major habitats of wild animals. The original design of the railway would have it passing through the black-necked crane nature reserve on the middle reaches of the Yarlungzangbo River. After many discussions,the designers decided to select a circuitous route via Yangbajain,to avoid disturbing the birds. But if avoidance was impossible, such as the section cutting through the Hohxil, Qumar and Soga nature reserves, the planners would compare several designs, and put forward protection measures to minimize disturbance to the nature reserves. Based on the investigations and studies of the habits and migration patterns of the wild animals along the railway line, the planners established 25 passageways for wild creatures at different sections of the line. In designing bridges and tunnels, the designers gave full consideration to the needs ofwildlife crossing the railway line. At many spots, special bridges were planned to provide passageways for migrating wildlife so that the normal life of these animals would be guaranteed as far as possible. Hohxil is one of the habitats of the Tibetan antelope, which faces the danger of extinction and is under the State's first-grade protection. In June and July each year, they form groups and travel long distances to Zhoine and Taiyang lakes to breed. The builders of the railway line stopped work for four days,withdrew workers and equipment from the construction site and removed the colored flags that would alert and frighten the Tibetan antelopes. The animals eventually passed through the construction site without being disturbed. To prevent damage to grasslands and wetlands, the planners designed many special bridges. The total length of bridges built for this railway line in Tibet alone would reach 13 km.
When completed, the stations along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway will use environment-friendly energy sources such as electricity, solar energy and wind energy for heating. Garbage at the stations will be collected for batch treatment. Domestic sewage, after being treated to meet the State's discharge standard, will be used,whenever possible, to water green spaces. The passenger cars will be sealed. Garbage on the trains will be collected in plastic bags which will be handed over to stations along the plateau for batch treatment. To suit the characteristics of the plateau, the central station management mode will be adopted, with seven central stations established along the line. Each of these stations will be totally responsible for the trains' running and maintenance in an area within a radius of 80 km. Wherever possible, remote automatic control and mechanized maintenance will be adopted to reduce the number of both the organizations and their staff on the plateau, thereby giving maximum protection to the natural eco-environment of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
-- Reducing the adverse impact of the railway construction on the ecological environment to the minimum. To achieve this goal, all the construction units have signed a responsibility pledge for eco-environmental protection with the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Construction Planning Office. The Office also requires all construction units to formulate or improve rules and regulations for protecting the ecological environment, and establish environmental protection sections run by full-time or part-time administrators. It is also imperative for the construction units to take specific scientific measures to protect the ecological environment; and their construction plans must meet the requirements for environmental protection. Competent governmental administration departments of land, environmental protection and water conservancy and relevant units responsible for design, supervision and construction must work together to decide on the sites for taking and discharging dirt and placing building materials such as sand and stone. They should determine, according to the availability of sunlight and hardness of ice, the appropriate distance between those sites and the railway roadbeds,as well as the traffic routes for workers and vehicles. Construction and relevant activities should be done within the designated areas to keep the permafrost stable. The headwaters and wetlands along the railway line are to be specially protected to avoid desertification in the headwaters areas, shrinkage of wetlands, deterioration of grasslands and water pollution that might be caused by the construction. Attention is to be paid to the protection and regeneration of ground vegetation. In places difficult for plants to grow and on the construction sites and transportation routes, the turf should be preserved and replanted in other places section by section, to be moved back to cover the slopes of the roadbeds and construction sites, so as to minimize the loss of ground vegetation. Where natural conditions are relatively good, grass seeds suitable for plateau areas should be carefully selected and planted with appropriate means of cultivation to restore as much as possible the ground vegetation that existed before the railway construction. Where the natural conditions are good enough, turf to be cultivated by manpower should be tried out, supported by the techniques of spray sowing and plastic film mulching. In the Tuotuo River area, where the Yangtze River originates, test-planting of grass on plateau roadbeds has been successful in the first stage. The railway builders will take all measures to meet the environmental requirements of the railway construction.
A key point in building the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is to protect the ecological environment along the railway line. All units involved in the construction are making great efforts in this respect. The China Railway No. 14 Engineering Bureau, for instance,has 13 key technical problems now undergoing scientific research, of which half concern environmental protection. There are six supervisors in this bureau who are in charge of eco-environmental protection on the railway construction sites. They are responsible for ensuring that the camp sites, work-site access roads and passageways, quarries, and sites for supplying dirt and digging trenches take up as little space as possible. They are also responsible for supervising accommodation facilities to ensure that the delicate plateau vegetation is properly protected.
-- Taking effective measures to minimize the pollution that the railway construction might cause to the plateau's ecological environment. To achieve this goal, the construction units have tried to use high-efficiency, low-noise and low-pollution equipment. They have tried to adopt more mechanized ways of construction and use as few administrators and workers as possible on the work sites. Whenever possible, prefabricated concrete components are carried to the construction sites and assembled there. In order to avoid the pollution caused by slurry around bridge-building sites, they use dry-boring by rotary drills where possible. The Office requires that all waste water from construction and camp sites be processed to meet the corresponding sewage treatment standard before discharge. Solid waste from construction sites and trash from campsites must be sorted out and recycled whenever possible. Waste and trash that cannot be degraded should be moved to appropriate places for batch treatment.
-- Strengthening supervision and inspection of environmental protection to meet the protection requirements. An environmental protection supervision system for a whole railway line was first adopted for the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. The Office entrusted a third party to supervise the environmental protection work all along the line during the whole period of the railway construction. To strengthen such supervision and inspection work, the State Environmental Protection Administration and the Ministry of Railways jointly issued the "Notification on Strengthening the Supervision and Management of the Eco-environment in the Building of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway", setting out specific requirements for the environmental protection and supervision work during the construction period. The State Environmental Protection Administration, the Ministry of Railways and other government departments concerned have repeatedly sent inspection groups to supervise the implementation of these environmental protection measures. Any violation of the environmental protection regulations is severely punished.
With the concerted efforts of all concerned it is justifiable to believe that the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, as a plateau railway upto the environmental protection standard, will truly benefit the people of all ethnic groups in Tibet.
V. The Strategic Choice for Sustainable Development
For the past 50 years or so, benefiting from the concern of the Central Government and support from the whole nation, people of all ethnic groups in Tibet have pulled their full weight to give an earth-shaking new look to Tibet, and have made achievements in ecological improvement and environmental protection that have attracted attention worldwide. People in Tibet today live and work in peace not only with a booming economy and developing society, but also with their landscape kept beautiful, their rivers kept clean, their animal species kept diversified, and their vegetation kept lush. Tibet has truly become a "Shangri-La."
Rapidly shaking off its traditional backwardness and quickening its steps toward modernization are the natural requirements for the progress and development of Tibet society and the fervent wish of all the ethnic groups in Tibet. Located on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Tibet has a peculiar geographical environment and a fragile ecosystem. Therefore, it is an important part of Tibet's progress to modernization and a strategic choice for sustainable development that Tibet should protect the regenerative capacity of its natural resources, improve the quality of its ecological environment, preserve the integrity and self-adjustment ability of its natural ecosystem, and ensure the safety of the ecosystem and the harmonious unity and coordinated development of Tibet's economy, society and ecosystem.
Ecological improvement and environmental protection in Tibet cannot be achieved if development steps falter, but nor should we attain short-term economic development at the cost of the ecological environment. We can only follow the law of social development, attach equal importance to both economic development and eco-environmental protection, giving attention to protection in the process of development and seeking development in the process of protection, and implement the strategy of sustainable development. Ecological improvement and environmental protection should be done in an active, thrusting and dynamic manner, and not in a passive, conservative and closed-door way. We cannot refuse any interaction between man and natural eco-environment on the excuse of preserving the fragile primitive natural state, because this will hamper the economic and social development and the improvement of people's living standard in Tibet.
The relationship between the exploration and utilization of natural resources and eco-environmental protection must be handled properly in the course of the modernization of Tibet, so as to promote changes in the mode of economic growth. It is clear from past experience in Tibet that the exploration and utilization of natural resources must follow the laws of nature, taking both long-term and overall interests into consideration, so as to avoid being too eager for quick success and instant benefits to the extent of over-burdening the ecological environment. A scientific attitude and methodology must be adopted in exploring natural resources and protecting the ecological environment. Natural resources that are not to be explored and used should be strictly protected, while the exploration and utilization of needed resources should be done scientifically with a definite goal, to prevent any unwanted impact on the ecological functions. Only in this way can the natural resources in Tibet be utilized rationally and scientifically, and can economic development and eco-environmental improvement be achieved simultaneously.
Tibet's ecological improvement and environmental protection, just as its economic and social development, have a vital bearing not only on the fundamental interests of the people of all ethnic groups in Tibet but also on the common interests of the whole nation. People of all ethnic groups in Tibet are the major motivators and direct participants in the ecological improvement and environmental protection work in Tibet. They are also the main beneficiaries of a well-preserved ecological environment. Carrying forward such work will benefit both the State and the people for generations to come. Starting from the fundamental interests of the people in Tibet and the fundamental demand of the people of all ethnic groups across China for common prosperity, over the past five decades and more the Chinese Central Government and the regional government of Tibet, in a spirit of being highly responsible for posterity and the world as a whole, have made tremendous efforts to promote and develop the ecological improvement and environmental protection work in Tibet, and have made achievements that have captured worldwide attention.
The Dalai clique and the international anti-China forces shut their eyes to the progress in the ecological improvement and environmental protection work in Tibet. They have spread rumors all over the world that the Chinese government is "destroying Tibet's ecological environment", "plundering Tibet's natural resources" and "depriving the Tibetan people of their right to subsistence", and so on and so forth, in order to mislead world public opinion and deface the image of China. Camouflaging themselves with pretensions of concern about eco-environmental protection in Tibet, they want really nothing but to hamper the social progress and modernization of Tibet and to prepare public opinion for their political aim of restoring the backward feudal serfdom in Tibet and splitting the Chinese nation.
It is true that there are still many problems in Tibet's ecological improvement and environmental protection efforts. As the whole global ecosystem is deteriorating, the fragile ecology in Tibet is particularly affected. Mud-rock flows, landslides, soil erosion, snowstorms and other natural calamities occur frequently in Tibet and desertification is threatening the region's eco-environment, compounded by man-made damage to the ecological environment as Tibet's economy develops. All these things have attracted much attention from the Central Government and the regional government of Tibet. In order to ensure the permanent stability of the ecological environment and natural resources and to guard against possible new threats to them, the regional government of Tibet, supported by the Central Government, has set up and put into practice since 2001 a mammoth plan for ecological improvement and environmental protection. From now until the mid-21st century, more than 22 billion yuan will be invested in over 160 eco-environmental protection projects aimed at steadily improving the ecosystem in Tibet. There is no doubt that the people in Tibet will create an even more beautiful environment and an even better life for themselves in the course of their future development.
Information Office of the State Council
of the People's Republic of China
March 2003, Beijing