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Winning the Land Conservation Battle
Tibet pushes ecological protection amid harsh natural conditions
By Lu Yan | NO. 12 MARCH 22, 2018
A herdsman drives his cattle in Shannan, Tibet Autonomous Region, on March 2 (XINHUA)

Lobsang Dawa is a student at the Machu Village Primary School in Amdo County, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. He is also called a "little environment protector." After school or during breaks, he picks up the garbage on the street. "There are more than 20 'environment protectors' like me at my school," Lobsang said.

Maintaining a sound environment has been one of the top priorities for residents of all ages in Nagqu Prefecture, where Amdo County is located. At 4,500 meters above sea level, the area is on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. It has thin air, extremely cold weather and heavy winds, making it one of the toughest places for ecological rehabilitation in Tibet.

During a meeting in January 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that the environment of Tibet was fragile, and so when developing the economy there, people should pay more attention to the ecological protection.

Over the past years, things have changed thanks to unremitting efforts from the regional government and the people, and conditions are beginning to turn around. According to the Science and Technology Department of the autonomous region, 57,200 trees of various kinds were planted and 19,980 seedlings had grown in Nagqu as of October 2017, with the rate of survival surpassing 85 percent. In addition, an increasing number of scientists and other specialized technological personnel have been sent to the region to do research and look for new ways to build a greener Nagqu.

Ecological remedies

Besides tree planting, Nagqu is working on many other ways to protect its ecological system, including restoring grassland. As Tibet's biggest pastoral area, Nagqu used to contain over 42 million hectares of natural grassland, accounting for 94.4 percent of the grassland in the entire prefecture and nearly half of the total grassland in Tibet.

However, with rapid economic development, the number of inhabitants and livestock increased rapidly, and eventually proved too much for the grassland to bear. Overgrazing has led to degeneration and desertification, as well as the disruption of ecological balance.

Furthermore, compared to large grasslands in other parts of China, such as Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region or Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Nagqu's high altitude makes it much harder to completely restore that which has been damaged. By the end of 2008, 21.4 million hectares of natural grassland had been depleted and the grazing capacity had exceeded by 8.8 percent the theoretical capacity.

"At that time, grassland usage reached such an extreme volume that if no measures were taken, it would be irreversible," Tsomo, a lecturer at the Communist Party of China (CPC) Nagqu Prefectural Committee Party School, said in an interview with China Environment News.

Apart from the human factor, Tsomo, who specializes in ecological protection, said global warming has also played a dubious role. The rise of temperatures accelerated the evaporation of water on the land, severely impeding the growth of grass.

Identifying the problem, the local government took action. In August 2009, the trial run of a reward and compensation program was implemented to promote rotational grazing in some parts and the prohibition of grazing in severely damaged areas. Herdsmen covered by the program received subsidies based on the amount of grassland they owned. By the end of the year, 22,400 people from three trial counties received a total of over 58 million yuan ($9.18 million).

The implementation of the policy continues and has been upgraded since 2009. According to official statistics, the prefecture's livestock inventory was cut from 6.57 million in 2010 to 5.25 million by August 2017, with areas which had a grazing ban gradually recovering and achieving vegetation coverage of more than 60 percent.

By the end of February 2018, Nagqu finished determining the boundaries of grasslands in 40 villages, meaning that more specific and detailed categories of grasslands, such as grass seed lands, grasslands that are also a habitat for wild animals and plants and wetlands, were brought under protection.

Black-necked cranes forage in Lhasa on January 20 (XINHUA)

Higher targets

Nagqu is an example of the strengthening of environmental protection in Tibet. Lhasa, the capital city of the autonomous region, and Nyingchi Prefecture, among others, have also explored their own ways of protecting the local ecology and the results are tangible.

According to the 2018 work report of the autonomous region's government, which was delivered on January 24 by Qizhala, Chairman of the regional government, in 2017, the autonomous region created 82,667 hectares of forests. "By 2020, the forest coverage rate in Tibet is targeted to reach 12.3 percent," Qizhala said. Over the past five years, the average clean air rate, by national standards, exceeded 95 percent in Tibet's seven prefectures.

Biological diversity has also been under effective conservation. As one of the world's richest areas in biological diversity, Tibet has established 61 nature reserves covering 410,000 square meters. Among them, 10 are at the national level. Some 125 rare animal species, including Tibetan antelopes, wild yaks and black-necked cranes, as well as 1,200 plant species endemic to the region, are safely protected.

President Xi, also General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, said in his report to the 19th CPC National Congress in October 2017 that building an ecological civilization is vital to sustaining China's national development.

"We must realize that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets and act on this understanding…implement the strictest possible systems for environmental protection, and develop eco-friendly growth models and ways of life," Xi said.

In line with national policies, Tibet will move forward on green development. According to the work report of the regional government, in the coming five years, the region will prohibit projects that feature heavy pollution, high energy consumption and high emissions. An eco-friendly economic system will be further advanced, while supervision and evaluation programs will be carried out to examine and ensure the implementation of ecological protection.

"We will improve the current reward and compensation mechanisms in forest and grassland preservation and establish similar mechanisms for wetlands and aquatic ecosystems. In so doing, we hope our people can do their part in protecting the environment while making a decent living at the same," Qizhala said.

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

Comments to luyan@bjreview.com

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