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  • Home > News > Details
    Development rooted in environment protection
    2009-03-31

    Owing to the natural conditions and climate, and the deficiency of fossil fuels in Tibet, the local people used to use firewood as their major fuel source. The use of firewood, as well as manure and straw in great amount has an unfavorable impact on the ecosystem and environmental protection in Tibet. Since 1980, the central and regional governments have taken measures to solve the problem of alternative energy sources, establishing successively a solar energy research institution, methane energy research institution and some other related institutions. In 2008, based on scientific evidence, the regional government began carrying out the alternative energy strategy, earmarking 5.2 billion yuan to develop new energy sources like methane and solar power, and by taking advantage of the opportunity to set up a new housing structure coordinating housing, energy use and manure disposal.

    4. Income level of farmers and herdsmen and poverty alleviation

    The urbanization level of Tibet in 2007 was only 38.3 percent. This means that 61.7 percent of the Tibet population were farmers and herdsmen, who engaged in traditional farming and animal husbandry in rural areas. Facts and statistics show that while raising the urbanization level and the residents' incomes in cities and towns, the Tibet regional government is also making every effort to enhance support for farmers and herdsmen, expecting that through such support and development farmers and herdsmen can fully enjoy the fruits of reform and opening-up, and economic development.

    The per capita net income of Tibetan farmers and herdsmen was 3,176 yuan in 2008, 7.1 times and 18.1 times that of 1984 and 1978, respectively. The 30 years from 1978 to 2008 saw an annual average income increase rate exceeding 10 percent, which is quite high. These facts are shown in Fig. 15.[17] Meanwhile, the per capita income from investment and property income of Tibet's rural residents reached 448 yuan in 2007, accounting for 12 percent of their total income (see Fig. 16).

    Along with the continuous increase of per capita net income of farmers and herdsmen, Tibetan families' consumption level also improved markedly. The Engel coefficient of Tibet's farming and pastoral areas, which had fluctuated between 53.18 percent and 69.5percent since the early 1980s, was 56 percent in 2008. Tibetan farmers and herdsmen are leading relatively comfortable lives. Durable goods like TV sets, radios, video recorders and cell phones have entered many Tibetan rural families, and about 20 percent of rural households have bought trucks or tractors. It is a trend in the pastoral areas of northern Tibet to buy the latest style of motorcycles. Many herdsmen change motorcycles as fast as city residents change their cell phones.

    Poverty in Tibet has also been alleviated as the overall income level has been raised. Before the democratic reform in 1959, the incidence of poverty was over 80percent in farming and pastoral areas.

    [18] After the democratic reform, the central and regional governments implemented a poverty-alleviation policy throughout Tibet, striving to reduce the number of people suffering from poverty. In the mid-1990s, at the beginning of the "Baqi" Rural Poverty Alleviation Program,[19] Tibet had 480,000 people below the poverty line, and the incidence of poverty was below 23 percent. With support of the central government, the regional government is making insistent efforts to alleviate poverty. At the end of 2007, the number of people who didn't have enough food and clothing decreased to 70,000 from 480,000 before the "Baqi" Program was adopted, bringing the incidence of poverty to below 10 percent.

    The disadvantaged groups in the Tibetan population have been protected. In 2005, the People's Government of Tibet provided allowances to extremely poor farmers and herdsmen if their annual net income was below 300 yuan. Since 2006, a system of minimum subsistence allowances for rural residents has been instituted across Tibet, and the poverty line for allowances increased by a big margin again: Families whose average annual per capita income is below 800 yuan are covered, and 230,000 rural families have benefited from the policy. Since 2003, the regional government has several times raised the allowance for "five guarantees" families [20] in rural areas. The annual allowance for one person has been raised from 588 yuan in the past to 1,500 yuan. In 2008 it was increased again to 1,600 yuan, which is higher than the national average. Meanwhile, the minimum subsistence allowance for urban and rural residents was also increased to 260 yuan and 850 yuan, respectively.

    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 percent. 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 Figure 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 percent 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 technologicacontents, 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 percent of Tibet's financial revenue and over 70 percent 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.

    IV. Government and market: Encouragement and promotion for development

    The evolution of history has proved that building and perfecting the market and its system can optimize the distribution of essential factors of production and promote the flow of manpower, merchandise, capital and services, in order to achieve a better division of specialized labor, update concepts and boost economic development. While stressing the market's fundamental role in development, we should also recognize that the government should play the role of a night watcher to maintain order, property rights and social stability, as well as institute strategies for economic development, provide public services, encourage competition, prevent monopoly, minimize negative external economic effects, promote fair distribution, alleviate and decrease poverty, and so on.

    1. Market and Resource Distribution

    Now, the market system has been established primarily in Tibet, and the market's function in regulating local economic life is obvious.

    Government control on prices of consumer goods, including the prices of farm produce and many other products, has been lifted. The free flow of manpower, materials and capital in Tibet has been realized. Today, Tibet's markets are full of commercial goods from all over China and the rest of the world. During the time of the planned economy daily foodstuffs like vegetables were in short supply, and many Tibetan residents would bring vegetables from inland areas on their flights back to Tibet. After the market mechanism was introduced the unreasonable price gap between consumer goods and agricultural goods created by the planned economy vanished. The price rise of most agricultural and livestock products far exceeds that of consumer goods, and farmers and herdsmen have profited greatly from the market. For instance, in the time of the planned economy a kilo of yak meat cost less than one yuan but now people have to pay more than 20 yuan for the same amount of meat. A robust yak could even swap for a walking tractor.

    Various markets of different nature have been established. Besides commodities markets that have sprung up all over Tibet, specialized markets of means of production, human resources and securities have emerged in Lhasa and other medium- and large-size cities and towns. The market is beginning to play the fundamental role in resource distribution. Enterprises have become major players in the market who have the final say over their production and operation. In a period of 25 years from the democratic reform in 1959 to the introduction of the reform and opening-up policies in 1984, Tibet's industrial development was dominated by State-owned and collectively-owned enterprises. Not until 1985 did industrial enterprises of a different nature emerge in Tibet. By 2007, there were 148 non-State-owned and non-collectively-owned industrial enterprises, whose output value accounted for nearly 60 percent of the total industrial output value, playing a significant role among the industrial enterprises in Tibet. The businesses of these enterprises are completely directed by the need of the market. Even the production and operation of State-owned enterprises follow the market laws and are regulated by the market rather than by government instructions (see Figs. 19 and 20).[23]

    According to an on-the-spot survey, farmers who remained self-sufficient for long periods with low levels of marketization have begun to tailor their production to the needs of the market. The following are two representative examples. Example one: many farmers are increasing the acreage of rape and high-quality highland barley, for which there is a growing demand and price rise, but at the same time reducing the area of winter wheat. Example two: farmers are beginning to buy modern machines like tractors and automobiles and at the same time reducing the number of horses, which rely on large areas of grassland and a lot of feedstuffs but are of not much use nowadays. Furthermore, more and more farmers and herdsmen are transferring extra products and labor to where the needs of the market lie.

    Many farmers and herdsmen are selling their surplus agricultural and animal products at fairs and farmer's markets in medium and large cities like Lhasa and Shigatse, especially at the morning fairs in Shigatse and other county seats. Besides, labor markets for farmers and herdsman have been formed in many cities and towns in Tibet. For example, in the slack seasons labor markets of considerable size can be found in Lhasa, where farmers and herdsmen congregate and wait for people to employ them.

    (China Daily 03/31/2009 page9)

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