Full Text: Ecological Progress on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

The State Council Information Office of the People's Republic of China published a white paper titled Ecological Progress on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau on Wednesday.

China SCIOUpdated: July 18, 2018

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.

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