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Special> China's Tibet: Facts & Figures> Background
UPDATED: March 30, 2009
Report on the Economic and Social Development of Tibet

III. Sustainable Development: Development Rooted in Environmental Protection and Green Industry

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In other words, it refers to the harmonious development of economy, society, resources and environmental protection, which compose an inseparable system. We should achieve the goal of economic growth while protecting the natural resources and environment, including the atmosphere, freshwater, sea, land and forests, on which mankind relies for existence, ensuring that future generations may inherit sustained development, and live in peace and plenty.[21]

1. Environmental Situation and Protection

As the main body of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the Tibet Plateau is the source and upper reaches of many Asian rivers, as well as a "solid reservoir" on which several billion people on the lower reaches of those rivers rely for existence. According to well-grounded scientific evidence, the Tibet Plateau is the "starter" and "regulating area" of climate change of the Northern Hemisphere, playing an important role in conserving water sources and controlling the climate. Going beyond the region, Tibet's environmental benefits have a direct bearing on the future development of the Chinese nation as a whole and the fundamental interests of later generations, and also affect the future development of the people of South and Southeast Asia.

In recent years, the government and legislative bodies have attached more importance to ecological building, environmental protection and sustainable development. Recently, the central government issued the Plan on Protection and Construction of the Ecological Security Screen in Tibet (2008-2030). According to the plan, China will, in more than 20 years' time, mobilize all the resources at its disposal to make Tibet a protective screen for regional ecological security. In addition, the Tibet Autonomous Region has formed a relatively systematic local legal regime concerning environmental protection; it has issued the Regulations for Environmental Protection in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Rules for Implementation of Management Methods of the Tibet Autonomous Region for Protection of the Environment of Construction Projects, and Methods of the Tibet Autonomous Region for Collection of Sewage Charges, and drafted the Regulations for Natural Protection in the Tibet Autonomous Region and Methods of the Tibet Autonomous Region for Comprehensive Management of the Urban Environment. All these laws and regulations have exerted a positive influence on environmental protection in Tibet.

In protection of the atmosphere, we can take Lhasa as an example. In 2007, the concentrations of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide conformed to the grade II standard of the Ambient Air Quality Standards. The daily average concentration of inhalable particles ranged from 0.012 to 0.232 mg/cu m, and its annual average concentration was 0.057 mg/cu m. Throughout the year of 2007 Lhasa had 177 days with excellent air quality, 181 days with good air quality, and 7 days with the air slightly polluted. Therefore the proportion of days with good air quality or better was 98.1%. The air quality of Lhasa is noticeably better than that of the other big cities in China.

In protection of natural grassland and forest, the government exercises a "felling by quota" policy, and strictly controls the scale of tree-felling in forests. Meanwhile, a rotation system is in place for lumbering bases, so as to help restore vegetation. A project for the protection of natural forest resources on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River in Tibet has been implemented in the three counties of Jomda, Gonjo and Markam, which have a weighty bearing on the ecology of the lower Yangtze Valley. Along the upper reaches of the Jinsha, Lancang and Nujiang rivers and the Yarlung Zangbo River valley, where sandstorm and soil-erosion hazards are serious, a project to reforest cultivated land is being undertaken. The government is also striving to promote the development of energy substitutes and fuel forests, and popularize solar energy in order to protect natural bush vegetation. The government of the Tibet Autonomous Region has formulated the Forestation Plan of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Opinions on Acceleration of Afforestation.

Due to the effective protection of natural forest resources and afforestation, the percentage of forest cover in Tibet has kept growing. The afforested area jumped from 868 ha in 1990 to 19,069 ha in 2007, registering a more than 20-fold increase. The area of shelter-forest, which plays an important role in ecological protection, rose from 440 ha in 1990 to 13,132 ha in 2007, an increase of nearly 30-fold (see Fig. 17).[22]

For the protection of biodiversity, the central government and the Tibetan local government have conducted extensive surveys of Tibet's biological resources. They have worked out scientific plans and programs for the protection of wild animals and plants, effectively protecting rare and endangered species. In accordance with the relevant State laws and regulations, the Tibet Autonomous Region has established forest law enforcement organs, conducting the "Hohxil Action Number One" and other special campaigns in the border areas of Qinghai, Xinjiang and Tibet to protect the Tibetan antelope and other rare animals. These campaigns have dealt a heavy blow to poachers and curbed law-violation activities that have done damage to wild animal resources. Meanwhile, the State invests millions of yuan each year in infrastructure facilities for forest security and forest fire prevention in Tibet, in a special project aimed at cracking down on poachers of Tibetan antelopes and in strengthening publicity concerning the protection of wild animals. Now the hunting of Tibetan antelopes has been brought under control.

Since the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, not one species in Tibet has been found to have suffered extinction. Biodiversity is effectively maintained, and biological types are continuously enriched. Red deer, generally considered by the international animal research community to have vanished in the 20th century, were discovered again in Tibet in the 1990s, and their numbers are increasing. As Tibet opens wider to the outside world, non-native creatures have been introduced from the inland areas to Tibet, where they are thriving today.

In the construction of nature reserves, by the end of 2008 Tibet boasts 20 nature reserves, of which nine are national level nature reserves and 11 are nature reserves at the autonomous region level, with a total area of 41.263 million ha, accounting for 34.8% of the land area of Tibet. In addition, Tibet has established 21 eco-function reserves of different types (including one at the national level). A rationally distributed nature reserve network of different types is basically in place (see Fig. 18).

In order to restore the natural ecosystem, human activities such as economic development are strictly limited in the established nature reserves. As a result, the ecological environment in most of the nature reserves has become stable, and the prospects are quite good. Breeding grounds, habitats and important ecosystems for rare and endangered species, important wetlands for migratory birds, as well as natural landscapes, geological sites and biological sites of scientific importance are now well protected. Jimmy Carter, former president of the United States, once commented on the construction of Tibet's nature reserves. President Carter doubted if it would have been possible for any other region in the world to designate 40% of the land area for natural protection over the past 20 years. He said that it was no easy job to preserve an endangered species from extinction. But, the diligent Tibetan people did it! They preserved nearly all their native species-from the snow leopard, wild yak and antelope to the musk deer, including some of the world's most mysterious and rare animals.

2. Economic Growth and Sustainable Development

In the course of the modernization of Tibet, much attention has been paid to the relationship between the exploration and utilization of natural resources and eco-environmental protection. While following the laws of nature, Tibet has taken both long-term and overall interests, both the need for development and the bearing capability of resources and the environment into consideration. Natural resources that should not be explored and used are strictly protected, while the exploration and utilization of needed resources are done with clear objectives, to prevent any undesirable impact on ecological functions. Efforts are being devoted to safeguarding Tibet's ecological security and offering a beautiful environment for people of all ethnic groups in Tibet. Environmentally-friendly industries, including tourism and Tibetan medicine and pharmacology have been designated as pillar industries.

Tourism is generally acclaimed as an environmentally-friendly industry that saves resources. Tibet is rich in tourism resources, and its tourism has rapidly developed following the speeding up of reform and opening-up. From 1990 to 2008, Tibet's tourism earnings and their contribution to the GDP grew markedly. Tourism earnings jumped from 6.84 million yuan in 1990 to 2.259 billion yuan in 2008, a 329.2-fold increase, and a 2.3-fold increase over the figure for 2000. While tourism earnings accounted for 0.2 percent of the GDP in 1990, it made up 5.7 percent of the GDP in 2008.

With high added value and scientific and technological contents, Tibetan medicine and pharmacology saves resources and causes little pollution to the environment. Its development not only has promoted the development of Tibet's pharmaceuticals industry as a whole, but has also contributed to regional economic growth. The output value of Tibet's medical and pharmaceutical industry jumped from 248 million yuan in 2000 to 642 million yuan in 2008, registering a 1.6-fold increase.

Tibet has paid much attention to the exploitation and utilization of ecological energy resources. The region stresses the exploitation and utilization of water energy while exploring and introducing other types of ecological energy resources. In 2007, Tibet invested 140 million yuan in a project to construct facilities using methane and solar energy and wind-driven generators, alternative energy resources to replace the traditional firewood. The methane project had been implemented in 43,000 households throughout Tibet, enabling 125,000 people to use methane; 400,000 solar stoves had been introduced, with well over one million users. In addition, the power of various types of solar photoelectric facilities totaled 9,000 kw, the construction of solar water heaters and solar-heated rooms were 200,000 cu m and 250,000 sq m, respectively, and the number of small wind-driven generators reached 135.

Though rich in mineral resources, the People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region shows an attitude of protection towards resources so as to ensure sustainable development. For projects for which the conditions are ripe, the local government will standardize the market operations under a unified planning to improve the value of mineral resources. The mining of other mineral resources is strictly limited to protect the environment and resources.

In the initial period of the building of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, top priority was given to environmental protection and ecological security. The railway was constructed along the Qinghai-Tibet highway, without opening a new passageway. The design plan takes plateau vegetation, area of frozen soil, protection of wild animals, and three wastes (waste gas, waste water and industrial residue) control fully into consideration. Thus, the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, or the "Heavenly Road" has not only promoted the economic growth of Tibet, but also managed to protect the ecological environment.

It is worth noticing that the central government is to invest nearly 20 billion yuan to build a protective screen for the ecological security of the Tibet Plateau during the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-2010). In addition, more than 90% of Tibet's financial revenue and over 70% of its fixed assets input rely on the central government's financial transfers, as well as assistance from other provinces and cities, greatly alleviating resources consumption and environmental pressure caused by regional development, and playing an irreplaceable role in the environmental protection and ecological improvement of Tibet. Without these supports, even if Tibet could maintain rapid economic growth, it would have paid a high environmental price.

Today, while pursuing rapid economic growth, Tibet has also gained remarkable achievements in protecting its ecological environment, making a striking contrast to the view that "Tibet's ecological environment has been destroyed" held by a handful of people in the world.

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