III. Ecological Improvement and Environmental Protection amid Economic Development

The ecosystem in Tibet is extremely fragile, and the ability to resist disturbance and regenerate is weak. Once the ecosystem is damaged, it is hard to restore it for a long period of time. For more than 50 years Tibet has adhered to the strategy of sustainable development, ensuring the close combination and coordinated development of ecological improvement, environmental protection and economic construction. While the economy develops rapidly and the people’s living standards are constantly rising, the ecological environment is being effectively protected. In accordance with the latest monitoring findings, the environment of water and the atmosphere in Tibet are basically unpolluted. The average annual concentration of suspended particles in the atmosphere of Tibet’s cities is between 193 and 268 per cu m. No major environmental pollution accident has occurred in Tibet, and most of its major rivers and lakes are in a primordial state.

— Environmental protection and ecological improvement are synchronized with agricultural production and development. In Tibet, the natural conditions for agriculture are poor, infrastructure is weak, grain productivity is low and the capability to withstand natural disasters is low. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen agricultural infrastructure construction, transform low- and medium-yield fields and improve the level of the agricultural ecosystem for agricultural production and development. With this aim in mind, the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region has endeavored to raise grain yield by improving the eco-environment for agricultural development. The government is helping farmers change their traditional cultivation habits of letting land lie idle after harvest — a centuries-old practice known as “white fallow,” which is detrimental to water and soil conservation. Rotation of grain and grass is adopted to increase the fertility of the soil and its ability to conserve water. While attention is paid to farmland water conservancy construction, a forest shelter network is being built to protect farmland from being eroded by sandstorms. As a result of persistent efforts, the rate of land usage in the major agricultural producers in central Tibet has increased greatly, and the level of soil erosion has declined markedly. Natural conditions like water and heat, which are fundamental to the growth of farm produce, have been improved. In 2000, surveys by experts found that the comprehensive eco-environment appraisal index of this area has gone up by 1.5 percentage points from 10 years ago. The improvement of the ecological environment has steadily increased agricultural productivity. By 2001, agriculture in Tibet had had bumper harvests for 14 years in a row. The total grain output had reached 982,500 tons, enough to make Tibet basically self-sufficient.

The State has invested a large sum of money on a series of comprehensive agricultural development projects in Tibet. It is making sure that while land areas are expanded, the ecological environment is improved at the same time. In the major construction projects, such as the comprehensive agricultural development project on the middle reaches of the “three rivers” with an investment of 1.2 billion yuan from the Central Government, environmental protection and ecological improvement are made key parts of the projects. Monitoring of the ecological environment in comprehensive agricultural development in the “three rivers” area in the past 10 years indicates that, due to an organic combination of biological and engineering measures, both the types and rate of land utilization and the acreage of man-made vegetation in the area have increased markedly. Desertification and soil erosion have been effectively checked, and the comprehensive index of the eco-environment quality has been raised by one to three grades. Comprehensive agricultural development has not only reaped significant economic benefits, but also resulted in good social and ecological benefits.

— Industrial projects are selected carefully, and pollution prevention and control are strengthened. Industry was not developed at all in Tibet until after the region’s peaceful liberation. Even today, there are few industrial enterprises in Tibet, and so industrial pollution is not much of a problem. In order to reduce the bad effects caused to the ecological environment by industrial development, the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region has adhered to the principle of placing equal emphasis on both industrial development and environmental protection. As industries are developed in the region, Tibet has made every effort to ensure that while they bring about economic profits they have social and environmental benefits as well. No industrial project is to be launched just because of its envisaged economic benefit or just because it will fill a gap in the field. To effectively combat pollution, the government has adopted a series of pollution-prevention measures to ensure that the development of modern industry does not damage the ecological environment. First, industrial pollution is dealt with through industrial restructuring, product-mix adjustment and technological transformation. For instance, the Lhasa Leather Factory has imported environmental-protection facilities along with advanced technologies and equipment from Germany. The Lhasa Brewery, which used to be a big polluter, has spent more than four million yuan on equipment to treat industrial sewage as part of its technological transformation efforts. As a result, its sewage discharge has met the specified standard. Second, supervision and management of the environment has been tightened. Rectification has been carried out in respect of enterprises that fail to meet the requirements for pollutant discharge. In accordance with the guiding principle of “opening big enterprises and shutting down small ones” for industrial restructuring, six vertical-kiln cement production lines in Lhasa proper, which used to be serious polluters, have been shut down. Enterprises causing serious pollution are barred from production, and outdated technologies and equipment prohibited by the State have been winnowed out.

— Strengthening evaluation and management of the impact of resources development and major infrastructure construction projects on the ecological environment. A policy is implemented ensuring that no new construction, reconstruction and expansion projects shall be authorized unless an evaluation of their impact on the environment has been conducted. This policy and the system of the “three simultaneouses” (pollution prevention facilities are designed, built and commissioned simultaneously with the main project) are strictly enforced. More than 80% of medium-sized and large construction projects have gone through evaluation of their impact on the ecological environment. The Norbusa and Shangkasam chromite mining projects include eco-environmental protection as a key task in resources development. With respect to the hydropower station at Yamzhoyumco Lake, which has attracted the attention of the world, full consideration was given to the protection of the ecological environment, starting from the decision to build the station to its design and construction. Since this hydropower station was put into operation, electricity generation has not caused the water level in the lake to drop, which would have harmed the natural eco-environment of the lake.

— Much attention has been paid to the comprehensive treatment of the ecological environment in urban areas in order to improve people’s living environment in areas with dense population. The comprehensive management of the ecological environment in cities and towns has always been stressed in ecological improvement and environmental protection work in Tibet. To guarantee the quality of the atmospheric environment, Tibet is actively popularizing the use of non-polluting energy sources in cities and towns, and phasing out fuels such as faggot, ox dung, coal and oil currently being commonly used by local residents. It encourages people to adopt natural gas as fuel for daily use. By 2001, the number of liquefied petroleum gas users in Lhasa and Xigaze had increased to 44,600 households, accounting for 83% of their combined total. At the same time, Tibet is actively using clean energy sources like water, geothermal, solar and wind energies. A pattern featuring water energy as the main energy source complemented by other types of energies has initially been formed, and has been a great help to the protection of the ecological environment. The amount of solar energy used in Tibet each year is equivalent to that provided by 130,000 tons of standard coal. In Lhasa and Xigaze, 1,693.6 ha of land are covered by trees or grass, and 47.48 ha are public green areas. The rate of green coverage in established districts is 23.5%. Construction of plumbing and treatment of sewage have been pushed ahead in urban areas, and 679,460 m of water supply pipes and 392,770 m of sewage pipes have been laid. The government has invested 51.2794 million yuan in building Lhasa’s garbage disposal plants, and garbage disposal facilities for other cities are being actively planned.

— Devoting major efforts to the development of tourism and other specialty industries that are beneficial to the protection of the ecological environment. Developing specialty industries with relatively little impact on the ecological environment has always been an important policy in accelerating the economic development of Tibet. With its unique natural geographical and cultural environments, Tibet enjoys a nature-endowed advantage in developing tourism and other tertiary industries. In 1996, the People’s Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region adopted the “Decision on Speeding Up the Development of Tourism,” and put tourism — one of the Autonomous Region’s pillar industries — in a prominent place and develop it vigorously. In 2001, Tibet played host to 686,100 domestic and foreign tourists, its earnings from tourism totaling 750 million yuan and its earning of foreign exchange reaching 46.38 million US dollars. Some 6,506 people are directly involved in the tourist industry, while more than 30,000 people are indirectly involved. The status of tourism in Tibet’s economy is rising. Although tourism pollutes the environment to only a very small extent, the local government has paid much attention to problems arising from the damage to the ecosystem and from environmental pollution in the development of tourism. Tourism and environmental protection departments are actively taking measures to collect, classify and dispose of garbage left in scenic spots to prevent pollution of the eco-environment. Garbage bins have even been set up at the harsh Mt. Qomolangma mountaineering headquarters. Garbage left by climbers and tourists is collected, removed and disposed of periodically.