BEIJING – The State Council on Thursday published a comprehensive plan to protect the environment and ecology on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau over the next 20 years.
“The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is facing grave challenges due to its complex and fragile natural environment and the unbalanced economic structure of the region,” said a statement on the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s website.
Strengthening environmental protection in the region is significant for “maintaining stability, ethnic unity and the building of a well-off society,” the statement noted.
The plan covers the Tibet autonomous region and Qinghai province, as well as parts of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu provinces.
A three-step roadmap has been laid out by the plan: ecological degradation and pollution should be effectively curbed before 2015; by 2020, the region should fully embrace a balanced development model that focuses on both economic growth and ecological protection, with an overall improvement in environmental quality; by 2030, healthy ecological systems should be restored.
The once pristine Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is already suffering from desertification due to intensive human activities, such as mining and overgrazing, according to conservationists. The ecological degradation is further worsened by global warming.
Tsering Norbu, a ranger at Qomolangma National Nature Reserve in Tibet, said some of the primitive forests in the area have been destroyed by local people for housing.
“With trees being logged, sandstorms are becoming more frequent in my hometown Dingri county during winter time,” said Norbu. “In high-altitude areas, it is more difficult to restore the ecology once it is destroyed.”
The plan also listed 10 key protection areas, such as Qilian Mountain and the sources for three major rivers – the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang rivers.
In the Yushu Tibetan autonomous prefecture, where the three major rivers originate, over a half of the grassland is degrading, and more than 46 percent of the land is suffering from soil and water loss, according to Wen Guodong, the prefecture’s deputy Party secretary.
The area is facing a long-term threat of drought as a result of global warming, according to Wen.
“You can see with the naked eye that the glaciers are retreating every year, and the lakes in the prefecture are shrinking,” said Wen. “We are really worried, but don’t have a very clear idea of what to do.”
People coming to dig for caterpillar fungus, a rare, insect-like fungus used in traditional Chinese medicine, are severely threatening the local ecology, said Wen.
He is also concerned that too many people are gathering and settling down in several towns after the devastating earthquake in 2010, which would require more resources than the region could offer, leaving the already fragile environment overburdened.
Lu Zhi, a professor of conservation biology at Peking University, said it is essential to let local residents join the protection programs, and provide them with sustainable means of living to free them from reliance on the natural resources.
In a separate move, the environmental watchdog launched a nationwide scrutiny for listed companies that discharge heavy metal pollutants. A total of 80 companies listed on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges will be scrutinized for their pollution treatment facilities.
These companies are involved with mining and smelting of heavy metals, such as bronze, lead and zinc and rare earths, as well as manufacturing of acid-lead batteries, according to a statement published on the ministry’s website.
Peng Yining contributed to this story.