Environmental protection at the "roof of the world" is again in the limelight as the Qinghai-Tibet Railway officially opened on July 1st.
Perhaps there is no other environment in the world today that attracts more attention than the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. This piece of highland, which covers an area of 2.4 million square meters-- with most of it over 3,500 meters above sea level-- is a comparatively pristine area. It is home not only to amazing natural landscapes but to diverse and unique eco-systems, fauna and flora. It is dotted with snow-capped mountains and rivers, and is known as the "water tower of Asia" and the "conditioner of global climate".
It is only natural to be concerned with the ecological impact of the railway that runs through three major nature reserves--Hoh Xil, Sanjiangyuan and Qiangtang --although it will surely create a tourist and economic boom in Qinghai and Tibet.
The ecology of the plateau has long been a focus of the Chinese government. Since 1996, the central government's investment in this area has reached 368 million Yuan. Funding will go towards a large number of projects in Tibet aimed at protecting natural forest resources, wild animals and plants by building nature reserves. Some land will be converted for use in forestry and pasture. Statistics show that Tibet's forest coverage has risen from below 1 percent in the 1950s to the current 5.93 percent; over the past half century, not a single species has become extinct and local biodiversity has been continually enhanced. Today Tibet has 18 nature reserves of different levels. They cover 401,000 square kilometers in total, accounting for 33.4 percent land of the autonomous region and 30.8 per cent of nature reserves nationwide, both the largest in the country.
As an old Chinese saying goes, "preparation ensures success; lack of preparation spells failure". The Tibet-bound railway reached Golmud in Qinghai as early as two decades ago, but its journey ended there, partly due to ecological considerations. The newly completed Qinghai-Tibet Railway cost an additional 1.5 billion Yuan to make it environmentally friendly, the first of its kind in China. The newly operational passenger trains are equipped with a modern sewage and waste system and are the only "zero waste discharge" trains in China. To cope with any possible negative environmental impact, local authorities in environmental protection, tourism and mining have been training staff, raising awareness and instructing people on proper waste disposal. The construction of modern sewage and garbage disposal plants is in full swing in major cities along the line including Xining, Golmud, Damshung and Lhasa.
The full operation of the railway will not only create an economic boom in Qinghai and Tibet, but will surely usher in a period of golden opportunity for local environmental conservation.
The preservation and security of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is both a goal of the Chinese government and a requirement for sustainable development in the region. The experiences of other countries show that environmental issues can only be resolved through development. The ecology of a country or region can never be maintained in stagnation and seclusion as long-term poverty and backwardness would only speed up resource consumption and environmental damage. Development and protection is by no means a quick fix but a win-win situation can be achieved as long as natural and economic laws are obeyed.
The protection of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is very important to Chinese people. Rather than sitting idly and talking, it is better for everyone to take immediate action with each person contributing a little bit, so that this piece of "heaven on earth" can be shared, enjoyed and preserved forever.
This commentary by Senior Editor Zhao Yongxin was carried on the front page of the Overseas Edition of the People's Daily on July 4, and was translated by People's Daily Online.