Green outlook trumps economic growth in Tibet
Protecting the environment is a tradition for local people, and the government is willing to sacrifice development in exchange for "preserving verdant hills and green waters", according to the chairman of the Tibet autonomous region.
Lobsang Jamcan told China Daily that as aboriginals living on the Tibet Plateau — also known as the "roof of the world" and the "third pole" — Tibetans and other ethnic groups have developed a special sentiment and philosophy toward nature.
"Tibetans know we have to get along with nature harmoniously, or we will be punished," he said. "The interpretation (of the punishment) in Tibetan Buddhism is karma."
He said that according to local tradition, everything on Earth has a meaning and reason to exist, and these reasons must be respected.
The chairman told how his father had taught him when he was a child. His father said that trees should not be felled for logging, nor should their branches be broken. Stones must be placed at the sources of drinking water to mark them as the sources of life.
The punishment for disobeying this includes foreign matter growing on people's bodies if they break branches and disaster for those who destroy water resources.
"The stories work even better than the law in our people's minds. They educate us to protect rather than damage our environment," he said.
"We know our environment well, and we know that the hills and water need protection. I think verdant hills and clear water are even more important than hills of gold and silver."
Tibet is also known as "the water tower of Asia", and experts say the ecology at high altitudes is so fragile that if damaged a recovery will be almost impossible.
The autonomous region's Environmental Protection Department says the environment on the plateau faces worsening desertification, soil erosion and deteriorating biodiversity as climate change takes its toll globally.
Measures have been taken in recent years to curb and reverse the situation.
In 2013, local authorities cut cement production capacity by 200,000 metric tons, according to the local government's annual work report.
The regional government handed out 2.83 billion yuan ($462 million) in subsidies to local people who preserve grasslands and forests by farming and herding in designated areas, withdraw from protected areas, and also for monitoring to prevent others from exploiting resources.
By the end of last year, the regional government had invested 4.82 billion yuan in building an ecological safety screen. This State Council project was started in February 2009 and aims to pour in 15.5 billion yuan by 2030.
Lei Guilong, head of Tibet's forestry bureau, said in August that 30 billion yuan will be invested in a new project from 2014 to 2030 to grow forests alongside major rivers, including the Yarlung Zangbo River and Lhasa River.
Lobsang Jamcan said: "We have the cleanest water, the most azure sky, the freshest air. These are the most precious assets of Tibet."
He said that protecting the environment well is a contribution to the nation and also to the Asian community.
"I'd rather slow development to keep our green hills and clean waters."
The autonomous region has enacted a regulation to protect the environment and introduced a system that manages and assesses the exploration and mining of resources.
The rights to approve mining activities have been reclaimed by regional authorities from county level and such activities must be endorsed by the region's chairman, he said.
Any project can be turned down regardless of its economic prospects if it will harm the environment, the chairman said.
"Officials must bear the consequences and the responsibility to build and protect the environment. The task has become a key performance indicator for their promotion evaluations."
Copyright 1998-2005, Tibet Environmental Watch (TEW)