New law to protect Qinghai–Tibet Plateau

Last week, China passed a national law to conserve the ecology of the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau.

The plateau is experiencing the effects of climate change, including melting permafrost and retreating glaciers, according to Dr Ouyang Zhiyun, president of the Chinese Society of Ecology, who was involved in creating the law.

Human activities such as herding, mining and tourism are also impacting its biodiversity, he added. 

The plateau spans around 2.5 million square kilometres, or a quarter of China’s total area. Several major Asian rivers rise on it, going on to provide vital resources to over 2.5 billion people. 

The new law, which will enter force on 1 September, addresses climate and biodiversity issues by providing detailed provisions for geographical surveys, risk assessment, monitoring and early warning, in order to better protect the glacial permafrost.

It emphasises biodiversity conservation by describing the establishment of a new monitoring network; requiring projects to be implemented to protect and restore important ecosystems; and calling for the creation of conservation areas centred around proposed national parks. It also imposes penalties for corporate and individual harming of biodiversity.

While not entirely forbidding mineral resource exploitation, the law requires such activities to be “strictly limited”. It “prohibits mining activities that do not meet ecological protection requirements within nature reserves located at the sources of rivers such as the Yangtze, Yellow, Lancang, Yarlung Tsangpo [which becomes the Brahmaputra], and Nujiang”. However, it provides no clear definition of “protection requirements”. A lawyer believes this means mining can still be conducted in these areas, though with tighter restrictions.

The passing of the law completes China’s 1+N+4 environmental law system. It consists of the comprehensive Environmental Protection Law (1); a set of special laws covering different environmental fields such as air and water pollution control (N); and specific protection laws for the Yangtze River, Yellow River, Qinghai–Tibet Plateau, and Black Soil – particularly fertile land, located in the north and north-east of the country (4).

Read China Dialogue’s earlier report on efforts to restore wetlands on the eastern edge of the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau.