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 Tibetan people 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 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.

The State has increased its input in ecological improvement and environmental protection in Tibet, and intensified supervision on the law enforcement connected with the ecological environment. Statistics show that since 1996 the total investment contributed by the Central Government in items concerning ecological improvement in Tibet has come to RMB 368 million. At the same time, a plethora of ecological engineering projects, such as natural forest protection, restoration of farmland to forest and pasture, afforestation in Lhasa and its vicinity, wildlife protection, and nature reserves construction, have been put into operation, which have effectively improved the eco-environment in Tibet.

Ecological improvement and environmental protection work, which had nothing to start with in Tibet, has grown incessantly in the past half century or more, and has undergone a process from voluntariness to conscientiousness, from passiveness to activeness, and from an unplanned to a scientific approach. According to the bulletin on the eco-environmental situation published by the relevant State authorities in 2000, the environmental quality in Tibet is in a sound state, and most parts are basically in a primordial state. Tibet is one of the best areas in the world as far as natural environment is concerned.