Tibet’s ecological progress over the past seven decades

By: Liu Fang, Zhu Shan, China Tibet News
Updated: November 13, 2019

Prior to the 1950s, Tibet was a society of feudal serfdom under theocratic rule, with an extremely underdeveloped economy. People could only adapt to the natural environment - they used whatever they could exploit from nature, let alone did they know the law of ecological environment and protection.

Ecological protection has become an important part of Tibet's modernization and made significant progress along with economic and social development since the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1959.
Based on Xi Jinping Thought on Ecological Civilization, Tibet has followed the concept of sustainable development and continued to offer people from home and abroad high-quality ecological products, meeting people's an increasing demand for beautiful ecological environment.
An improving system of ecological civilization
The region has completed 45 rectification tasks and 179 specific measures by March of 2019. Among them, 28 tasks and 90 measures have been completed before the end of December of 20; 14 tasks and 24 measures have been planned to be completed at the end of 2019 or in 2020, which are now being pushed forward in accordance with requirement.
In recent years, following the national lines on ecological civilization and the reform of ecological civilization system, Tibet has issued a series of regulations, including the Opinions on Building a National Eco-Barrier and Accelerating Ecological Progress, and the Opinions on Building a Beautiful Tibet. Officials of relevant governments are designated to be responsible for governance of each river and each lake; the release of pollutants is controlled; the assessment of ecological civilization tasks is set; and the ecological compensation mechanism is to be sound.
In 2018, the number of ecological working posts increased to 667,000. The annual allowances rose to 3,500 yuan RMB per person. With a found of 100 million yuan RMB, the ecological compensation system of Yangtse River was launched. The ecological compensation pilots of upstream and downstream of Yangtse River were established in Nagqu, Qamdo and Nyingchi along the Nujiang River, representing a total investment of 33 million yuan RMB.
Prominent Progress in Ecosystem Conservation
In his 1904 book The Unveiling of Lhasa, Edmund Candler recorded: Lhasa was "squalid and filthy beyond description, undrained and unpaved. Not a single house looked clean or cared for. The streets after rain are nothing but pools of stagnant water frequented by pigs and dogs searching for refuse." After the democratic reform in 1959, Tibet has taken measures to strengthen the afforestation and beautification in both rural and urban areas, including the implementation of garbage classification, control of sewage disposal and the treatment of noise pollution. Lhasa City, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, has implemented the strategy of "building a city by environmental beautification" and witnessed the improvement of city's environment quality. In addition, it also has carried out a series of mass activities to cultivate spiritual civilization. In 2011, Lhasa City won the award of "National Civilized City" and kept this title in 2017.
Since 2019, the region has cleared 63,000 tons of garbage in rural areas, 12,000 tons of silt in villages, and 4,955 buildings' wrecks; over 1,000 kilometers of river channels have been dredged; and more than 15,000 places where firewood and forage grasses are put randomly have been cleared up. The region's 16 villages  are inscribed on the "China's traditional villages" list, 4 of which have gained the support from central finance.
In 2018, Tibet sketched the Blue Sky Protection Campaign, which aims at improving the local air quality. 98.2% of days are rated as "excellent" or "good" in terms of air quality, up 0.7 percentage points from a year ago. The region also implemented the Action Plan for Water Pollution Prevention and Control and thePrevention and Control of Soil Pollution Action Plan. The water sources are of good quality. The soil environmental quality remains good.
In 2009, the state approved the Plan for the Protection and Construction of the Eco-safety Barrier in Tibet (2008-2030). 10 projects concerning ecological conservation, construction, and support had been implemented in Tibet. The first-stage project (2008-2014) completed the framework of Tibet's eco-projects; several key projects have begun to yield notable ecological effects; local ecosystem service functions improved steadily; and the functions of the ecological barrier remained stable and showed continuous improvement.
"The total investment of 'The Plan' is 15.5 billion yuan RMB. By the middle of August, 2019, the state has spent 11.68 billion yuan RMB. Now, the assessment work of the implementation of 'The Plan' has finished, which has been reported to the regional government and the National Development and Reform Commission," said a spokesman for the National Development and Reform Commission.
"In 2018, Tibet launched the plan of the region's ecological civilization construction and the eco-restoration of key ecological reserves, as well as completed the schedule of ecological revitalization of rural revitalization strategy. It also carried out the 'Green Shield 2018' campaign and cracked down 25 illegal activities in nature reserves."
Steady Development of Green Industry
On August 22, 2019, the pilot ecological civilization construction of Changtang reserve and Mt. Qomolangma reserve was proposed. The building of national reserves at the world's third pole is beneficial for both the protection of Qinghai-Tibet plateau's ecological system and the development of ecological tourism.
"The development of tourism is closely linked with ecological protection. Tourism not only gets benefits from ecological civilization, but also makes contributions to it," said an official for the regional tourism and development bureau.
Following the concept of ecological protection, Tibet has worked hard to promote the tourism development with local characteristics and all-for-one tourism. With the improvement of tourism infrastructure and facilities, the regional tourism will integrate with culture and sports more deeply. On the first half of this year, Tibet received a total of 13.41 million tourists from home and abroad, a year-on-year increase of 20.2%. The visitors brought 14.93 billion yuan RMB in tourism revenue, up 19.8% from a year ago.
Before the peaceful liberation of Tibet, only a small power station, with a capacity of 125 kw, provided electricity to the small number of privileged aristocrats. In 1960, Ngachen Hydropower Station was completed and put into use, bringing electric lighting for the first time to the citizens of Lhasa. Subsequently, many more hydropower stations were completed, including Yamdrog Hydropower Station, Wiga Hydropower Station and Dzam Hydropower Station. Yangbajain Geothermal Power Station has also been completed, as have a series of large grid-connected PV power plants. The power supply in Tibet has been grid-connected with those in Qinghai and Sichuan provinces. By the end of 2018, Tibet's power grid had extended to 62 counties (districts), supplying electricity to a population of 2.72 million; the other areas in Tibet had full power supply through small hydropower stations, local PV networks, and household PV systems.
In recent years, Tibet has worked out the Circular Economy Development Plan of the Tibet autonomous region (2013-2020), and made great efforts to develop clean energy, tourism, culture and other green low-carbon economic activities. In addition, it also focuses on the development of animal husbandry and agricultural industry. Now, it is pressing forward with the certification of products of specified geographical origin and developing unique brands. More than 10 farm and pastoral products of specified geographical origin have been certified by relevant government departments, including Pagri yak, Gamba sheep and Lhunze black highland barley. Over the past six months, the total output of agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and fishery stood at 6.22 billion yuan RMB, an increase of 4.5% from a year ago. The growth rate was 2.5 percentage points higher than the previous year.
Establishment of Sci-tech Support System
On August 15 of 2019, the research team of ecological security barrier optimization system of the second round of comprehensive investigation and research on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau had a discussion with the regional environment-related departments.
"It is necessary to put ecological security into the consideration in the homeland security. We should promote the optimization of spatial layout and function, realize networked management, identify the ecological security nodes, and adhere to the sustainable development," said Fu Bojie,an academician with the Chinese Academy of Ecological environment.
"In terms of building a system of reserves centering on the national parks, we proposed to establish the cluster of national parks at the world's third pole, which is also regarded as the most influential ecological civilization construction project," said Xu Yong, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Geosciences and Resources.
"Recently, six young people are participating in the scientific research activities. They don't know how to start. However, it is a kind of experience for them. Every day, they share the knowledge of vegetation classification in their WeChat Friends Circle. I fee so happy to see the young people could join in this project," said Tashi Yangzom, a senior engineer with the regional weather bureau.
With the goal of solving such problems as environmental carrying capacity, disaster risks, and approaches to green development, the second round of comprehensive investigation and research on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau remains to focus on the water, ecology and human activities, providing comprehensive sci-tech support for local ecological progress.
In addition, for monitoring the changes of ecological environment, Tibet has set up a complete monitoring system and early-warning system, including environmental protection, land, agriculture, forestry, water conservancy, meteorology and some other fields, which greatly enhances the efficiency of the regional environmental management.