Eco­log­i­cal Tightrope in the Qil­ian Moun­tains

The en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems plagu­ing the Qil­ian Moun­tains are fu­eled by the lo­cal gov­ern­ment’s thirst for eco­nomic growth.

China Pictorial (English) - - Con­tents - Text by Li Zhiqing

Eco­log­i­cal Tightrope in the Qil­ian Moun­tains

The Qil­ian Moun­tains serve as an im­por­tant eco­log­i­cal shel­ter for north­west­ern China as well as the main wa­ter con­ser­va­tion area for Gansu and Qing­hai prov­inces and the In­ner Mon­go­lia Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion. How­ever, af­ter decades of ex­ten­sive, dis­or­dered de­vel­op­ment, the lo­cal ecosys­tem has fallen into cri­sis. Hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties such as min­ing, tourism de­vel­op­ment, agri­cul­ture and an­i­mal hus­bandry have ex­erted an un­bear­able bur­den on the re­gion’s frag­ile ecosys­tem. More­over, wors­en­ing global warm­ing has caused the snow lines of the Qil­ian Moun­tains to con­tinue ris­ing and the glaciers deep in the moun­tains to melt faster and faster, re­sult­ing in an ex­ac­er­ba­tion of the eco­log­i­cal cri­sis in the lower reaches.

In July 2017, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is­sued a cir­cu­lar on eco­log­i­cal degra­da­tion of the Qil­ian Moun­tains Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve, which lists prom­i­nent prob­lems caus­ing the dev­as­ta­tion of lo­cal ecosys­tem such as il­le­gal min­ing, il­le­gal hy­dro­elec­tric de­vel­op­ment, il­licit waste dis­charge and in­ad­e­quate en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion mea­sures.

Es­sen­tially, the eco­log­i­cal cri­sis in the Qil­ian Moun­tains is a re­sult of “mar­ket dys­func­tion” and “gov­ern­ment dys­func­tion.” Ei­ther min­ing en­ter­prises or hy­dro­elec­tric projects will con­tinue to cause more en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion. From the per­spec­tive of mar­ket law, en­ter­prises nat­u­rally must con­tinue ex­pand­ing their pro­duc­tion scales. With­out ef­fec­tive ex­ter­nal reg­u­la­tion and the mar­ket in­ter­ac­tion, disorderly de­vel­op­ment will only cause se­vere en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems over time.

Gov­ern­ment dys­func­tion is a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in the eco­log­i­cal cri­sis of the Qil­ian Moun­tains. Ac­cord­ing to the July 2017 cir­cu­lar, en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems plagu­ing the re­gion are caused by op­er­a­tions and projects that re­ceived il­licit ap­proval. For in­stance, of more than 150 hy­dro­elec­tric sta­tions along the Heihe, Shiyang and Shule rivers in the Qil­ian Moun­tains re­gion, 42 are lo­cated in pro­tected ar­eas of the na­ture re­serve. Com­mon il­le­gal prac­tices in­clude im­proper ap­proval, con­struc­tion be­fore ap­proval and in­com­plete pro­ce­dures. Most il­le­gally ap­proved and con­structed projects ne­glect the im­por­tance of eco­log­i­cal pro­tec­tion. Com­pared to the dam­age a sin­gle pri­vate en­ter­prise can cause, gov­ern­men­tal mal­prac­tice in ap­prov­ing con­struc­tion that lacks en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness causes even greater dam­age to the ecosys­tem.

To a large ex­tent, the en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems plagu­ing the Qil­ian Moun­tains are fu­eled by the lo­cal gov­ern­ment’s thirst for eco­nomic growth. Due to a strong pref­er­ence

for ex­ten­sive eco­nomic growth, the lo­cal gov­ern­ment lacks the mo­ti­va­tion to pri­or­i­tize en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems. In fact, such pref­er­ence has been the sin­gle great­est cause of eco­log­i­cal degra­da­tion of the Qil­ian Moun­tains, even greater than lo­cal en­ter­prises and mar­ket fac­tors. The lo­cal gov­ern­ment’s er­ror lies in sac­ri­fic­ing the lo­cal ecosys­tem for the sake of de­vel­op­ing the econ­omy.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis plagu­ing the Qil­ian Moun­tains must be solved by ad­just­ing the eco­nomic growth mode. How­ever, de­ci­sion-mak­ing mech­a­nisms of lo­cal gov­ern­ment and pol­i­cy­mak­ers are usu­ally more com­pli­cated than the econ­omy, re­sult­ing in de­lays in pol­icy for­mu­la­tion and in­ter­ven­tion.

What is the best way to solve the eco­log­i­cal cri­sis in the Qil­ian Moun­tains? Ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal eco­nom­ics, en­ter­prises’ im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment grows day by day with their op­er­a­tional ac­tiv­i­ties. Due to dys­func­tion of both the gov­ern­ment and the mar­ket, dam­age to re­sources and the en­vi­ron­ment has reached a tip­ping point af­ter long-term ac­cu­mu­la­tion, re­sult­ing in re­source and eco­log­i­cal crises. Dys­func­tion of the mar­ket and the gov­ern­ment needs to be over­come in earnest be­fore it is too late. This should be the pri­mary con­cern in pol­icy de­signs to ad­dress the eco­log­i­cal cri­sis of the Qil­ian Moun­tains.

From the per­spec­tive of macro en­vi­ron­men­tal eco­nom­ics, im­bal­ance be­tween the en­vi­ron­ment and eco­nom­ics is the pri­mary rea­son for cur­rent se­vere eco­log­i­cal degra­da­tion. Only by ad­dress­ing the im­bal­anced re­la­tion­ship and cor­rect­ing the im­proper re­source al­lo­ca­tion be­tween en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and eco­nomic growth can we re­al­ize the si­mul­ta­ne­ous ad­vance­ment of the en­vi­ron­ment and the econ­omy and achieve “green de­vel­op­ment.”

Based on such logic, three ma­jor so­lu­tions could treat the eco­log­i­cal cri­sis of the Qil­ian Moun­tains: rec­ti­fy­ing the mar­ket, reg­u­lat­ing the gov­ern­ment and pro­mot­ing green de­vel­op­ment.

Rec­ti­fy­ing the mar­ket refers to mea­sures to strengthen en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion of mar­ket be­hav­iors such as pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion and for­mu­late en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards in line with the en­vi­ron­ment car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of the Qil­ian Moun­tains. As a na­tional na­ture re­serve, the Qil­ian Moun­tains should set stricter thresh­olds for en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion than other re­gions. In fact, tight­en­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards pro­tects the econ­omy from the threat of eco­log­i­cal degra­da­tion and im­proves it by pro­mot­ing the de­vel­op­ment of bet­ter pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion means. To this end, di­verse pol­icy tools in­clud­ing laws, eco­nomic in­cen­tives and fi­nan­cial poli­cies as well as pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion on en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion should be em­ployed to bal­ance so­cial costs and re­turns in eco­log­i­cal re­source utiliza­tion, op­ti­mally cor­rect im­proper re­source al­lo­ca­tion and max­i­mize the efficiency of re­source utiliza­tion.

Reg­u­lat­ing the gov­ern­ment refers to the erad­i­ca­tion of gov­ern­ment dys­func­tion. Cur­rently, due to a pref­er­ence for eco­nomic growth, lo­cal gov­ern­ments don’t do enough or even overtly harm the en­vi­ron­ment, which has be­come the heart of en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems. Not only should lo­cal gov­ern­ments per­form their du­ties within the frame­work of laws to en­sure they prop­erly ful­fill their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, but also lo­cal lead­ers should be as­sessed by a sys­tem that un­der­lines the im­por­tance of eco­log­i­cal im­prove­ment so that lo­cal gov­ern­ments will be mo­ti­vated to shoul­der their obli­ga­tions in en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion

and prop­erly play their role as “gate­keep­ers” of the mar­ket.

Pro­mot­ing green de­vel­op­ment re­quires in­te­grat­ing eco­nomic growth and eco­log­i­cal im­prove­ment to bet­ter pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment while de­vel­op­ing the econ­omy. Both the­ory and prac­tice have shown that eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment can bol­ster en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion be­cause the lat­ter can­not be achieved with­out the sup­port of nec­es­sary man­power and re­sources. Eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment can en­hance the ca­pac­ity build­ing for en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and con­stantly in­ject “fresh blood” into the cause of eco­log­i­cal im­prove­ment. Of course, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment must be eco-friendly. The Qil­ian Moun­tains Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve presents a pris­tine ex­am­ple: The re­gion’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, in fact, do not con­flict each other. The re­gion can con­tinue car­ry­ing out pro­duc­tion and op­er­at­ing ac­tiv­i­ties while ad­her­ing to rel­e­vant na­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion stan­dards, and at the same time it can use its ad­van­tages as a na­ture re­serve to de­velop spe­cial­ized in­dus­tries such as high-value-added forestry, high­tech an­i­mal hus­bandry and the “In­ter­net Plus” econ­omy to ex­pand the mar­ket and in­crease rev­enues.

Since 2017, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment of Gansu has taken ac­tion to ad­dress the eco­log­i­cal cri­sis of the Qil­ian Moun­tains. It for­mu­lated and en­acted the strictest en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion stan­dards, dis­man­tled and closed en­ter­prises vi­o­lat­ing rel­e­vant en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions, shut down or ren­o­vated 42 hy­dro­elec­tric sta­tions and de­ployed video and data mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment to en­sure ad­e­quate wa­ter dis­charge to the lower reaches of the rivers. In the up­grade from a na­ture re­serve to Qil­ian Moun­tains Na­tional Park, the lo­cal gov­ern­ment dou­bled the space of pro­tected area. Gansu un­veiled a blue­print for fu­ture de­vel­op­ment of 10 ma­jor green in­dus­tries in­clud­ing en­ergy con­ser­va­tion, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and cul­tural tourism to fur­ther pro­mote green de­vel­op­ment. These mea­sures are ex­pected to bal­ance eco­nomic growth and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and achieve green de­vel­op­ment in the Qil­ian Moun­tains.

June 5, 2018: An eco­log­i­cally re­stored flu­o­rite mine in Jiao­ji­azhuang Town­ship, Jin­chang City, Gansu Prov­ince, in the Qil­ian Moun­tains Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve. by Fan Peishen/xin­hua

June 5, 2018: Work­ers check wa­ter dis­charge con­di­tions at Long­shou Hy­dro­elec­tric Sta­tion in the Qil­ian Moun­tains Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve. The hy­dro­elec­tric sta­tion adopts a self-con­trolled sluice mod­ule to en­sure nat­u­ral wa­ter dis­charge to the lower reaches of the river. by Fan Peishen/xin­hua

May 8, 2018: Work­ers plant spruces in an eco­log­i­cal restora­tion zone in Su­nan County, Gansu Prov­ince, in the Qil­ian Moun­tains Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve. Since 2017, the Qil­ian Moun­tains re­gion has steadily pro­moted eco­log­i­cal restora­tion, with early re­sults hav­ing al­ready been achieved. VCG

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