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China passes landmark law to protect Qinghai-Tibet Plateau ecosystem

Source: Xinhua Updated: 2023-04-27

BEIJING -- China's top legislature on Wednesday adopted a law to protect the fragile ecosystem of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, known as "the roof of the world."

The law, passed at a standing committee session of the National People's Congress, the top legislature, will take effect on Sept. 1.

The law on ecological conservation on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is a new addition to China's laws for special regions, following the enactment of the Yangtze River Protection Law, the Yellow River Protection Law, and the Black Soil Protection Law. However, the significance of the new law goes far beyond the plateau region.

The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, with an area of around 2.58 million square kilometers, spans six provincial-level regions in western China. It is the source of several major rivers of Asia, such as the Yangtze, Yellow, and Mekong rivers, which combine to nourish around 3 billion people.

"Despite having one of the best ecological environments in the world, the natural ecosystem of the plateau is inherently fragile and sensitive," said Shui Yanping, deputy director of the Department of Ecology and Environment of Tibet Autonomous Region. "Once damaged, it is difficult to repair."

The plateau faces multiple ecological challenges, including retreating glaciers, melting permafrost, and the impact of global warming, Shui said.

Lawmakers said formulating the law will help strengthen the top-level design of the ecological protection system for the plateau.

The law outlines the overall layout of the plateau ecology security, stipulates protection and restoration measures, risk prevention and control, and safeguards and supervision.

The draft law entered its second reading late last year with enhanced provisions on preserving biodiversity. It underscored the protection of snow-capped mountains, glaciers and frozen soil upon beginning the third reading.


Protection is the cornerstone of the new law, which stresses the principle of respecting, complying with and protecting Nature.

As a lawmaker participating in the legislation once said, "We have no quick fix to prevent ecological changes such as the melting of glaciers from taking place on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. What we can do, however, is to keep human activities within the ecological limit. This is the best way to protect it."

The law prohibits production and construction activities that may cause soil erosion in areas that already suffer severe soil erosion or have fragile ecology.

It bans sand mining and mining activities that do not meet conservation requirements in nature reserves for river sources and imposes strict rules against the construction of new small hydropower stations on the plateau.

The law also contains provisions for travelers. It prescribes penalties for those who litter on the plateau, stipulating that individuals with serious circumstances shall be fined between 500 yuan (about 72 U.S. dollars) and 10,000 yuan.

"As the May Day holiday approaches, the number of tourists visiting Mount Qomolangma is increasing, as is the amount of litter left by tourists. I believe the law will raise public awareness of protecting the environment and curb such behaviors," said Lhapa Tsering with Qomolangma National Nature Reserve Administration.