In line with a plan approved on Wednesday at a meeting of the State Council, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau region, an area covering the Tibet autonomous region and Qinghai province, as well as parts of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu provinces, is “key to the country’s ecological safety”.
A statement from the meeting presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao said strengthening environmental protection there will be significant in “maintaining border stability, enhancing ethnic unity and building an affluent society”.
“The ecological safety of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is still facing grave challenges due to the fragile and complex natural environment as well as the unbalanced industrial structure of the region,” the statement warned.
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is among the regions in the world that have been hardest-hit by global warming, according to Qin Dahe, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Temperatures in the Tibet autonomous region rose by an average of 0.32 C every 10 years between 1961 and 2008, observations showed.
The rate of warming was much faster than the average across China, where temperatures rose by between 0.05 C and 0.08 C.
Glaciers on the plateau are retreating faster than those in any other part of the world.
The plan divides the plateau region into different categories according to geological characteristics, natural conditions and environmental capacities for resources, said the statement. Specific management measures have been drafted for each category.
It also sets 10 key ecological function zones, including the Source of the Three Rivers (Yellow River, Yangtze River and Lancang River) and Qilian Mountain, to reinforce the protection of grassland, wetland, forest and biodiversity.
The document gives priority to the protection and treatment of drinking water sources to safeguard the supply to urban and rural areas.
A monitoring, evaluation and warning system will also be set up for climate change and the ecological environment of the plateau, according to the plan. Exploitation of mineral and waterpower resources should be scientific and orderly, it added.
During the last decade, a combined 160,000 square kilometers of land has been turned back to grassland thanks to the reduction of grazing, while another 4,200 sq km has been returned to forest thanks to the arrest of farming, said the statement.
A total of 9,000 sq km of land has been treated for soil erosion, and forest coverage in the region has risen by 0.8 percent during the same period, it added.