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Policies for an eco-plateau

Climate change poses new threats to life on the grasslands of the Tibetan plateau. Beth Walker introduces a week-long series about government responses to the challenge, their environmental and social effects.

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Tibetan grasslands constitute one of the most important grazing ecosystems in the world. Since 2000, when China began its “Western Development Strategy”, the global significance of the Tibetan plateau region has been widely recognised, both as the “third pole” – a water tower upon which around 40% of the world’s population depend – and as a geographic region with a unique natural and cultural heritage.

Traditional pastoralism, and to a lesser extent subsistence hunting, have been practiced in this high-altitude, fragile ecosystem for over 5,000 years. However, climate change is now leading to historically unprecedented pressures. For example, at the centre of the plateau at the source of the Yellow River, over one-third of the grasslands have transformed into semi-desert conditions.

The Chinese government has introduced a number of policies aimed at reversing this trend and protecting the ecology and biodiversity of the grasslands over the last decades. Since the 1980s, these have included the assignment of property rights and the fencing of rangeland. As the Western Development Strategy began, the first programme to be adopted and implemented was a nationwide environmental restoration program. The “farmland to forest” policy, or “grain to green” (tuigeng huanlin), which converted steep cultivated land to forest, was one of the most important initiatives. In grassland areas, it is known as the “pastures to grassland” policy (tuimu huancao). The basic premise of this policy is that a decade of respite from livestock grazing is necessary for degraded grassland to be restored to its natural state, and therefore domestic livestock – and their herders – should be moved away. Now, new fencing is being erected at an unprecedented rate in rural grassland areas.

However, this policy has been recently overshadowed by another attempt to conserve the region, known as “ecological migration” (shengtai yimin). Since the mid 1990s, “ecological migration” has been used to describe the planned relocation of people from areas under environmental pressure. It was adopted as official state policy in 2002. The major target of this policy has been the Sanjiangyuan (“Three river sources”) region of Qinghai, situated in the centre of the Tibetan plateau, which encompasses the headwaters of three major Asian rivers: the Yellow River, the Yangtze River, and Mekong River. In 2003, the area became the second-largest nature reserve in the world, as well as the highest and most extensive wetland protected area.

Now, tens of thousands of families have been asked to move from these fragile grassland areas and adopt new livelihoods in farming, or to live in new towns. In Qinghai, for example, 35 resettlement communities have already been built and 51 more are under construction. According to government plans, over 100,000 people (17% of the region’s population) will have been relocated from Sanjiangyuan by the start of this year, with the aim of restoring the grassland ecosystem.

However, these resettlement projects have raised serious concerns, mainly among academics, about the policy and its effects on minority groups in China. According to some scholars, these kinds of projects have historically been as much about the urbanisation of nomadic peoples (in this case, mostly ethnic Tibetans and Mongolians), as they have been about protecting the environment. Moreover, recent studies have suggested that overgrazing may not in fact be the major driver of environmental degradation

In her article for chinadialogue tomorrow, “Restoring the grasslands?”, Emily Yeh reviews recent Chinese government grassland policies and relocation programmes. Yeh writes that recent studies suggest the environmental and social benefits of such measures have been overstated. Later in the week, Judith Shapiro looks in detail at the tragic history of the Lakota Sioux in the American state of South Dakota, and asks what China can learn from the sad history of Native American resettlement.

Beth Walker is a researcher at chinadialogue’s “the third pole” project
Homepage image by reurinkjan

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匿名 | Anonymous


藏族有上百年可持续地管理自然环境的历史。如果不是外界影响,那么究竟发生了什么,让环境退化的如此明显? (相比文中提到的变化,气候变化的影响的历史更短。)


External constraints and inappropriate policies

Tibetans have for centuries managed their natural environment sustainably. What has changed to cause their environment to so clearly degrade if not external influence? (The impact of climate change is more recent than the changes mentioned in the article.)

Many of the semi-nomadic people who have now been urbanised will have been given little choice by their "benefactors", not to forget that fencing and aforestation projects make their otherwise sustainable lifestyles untenable. That this external interference would be unsatisfactory is just common sense. It also reflects the arrogance of outsiders - whether well-intentioned or not.

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匿名 | Anonymous


近年来,青海省游牧社区的安置项目甚为普遍(负面意义的),搬迁过程遇到了许多问题。游牧民族被赶出他们的土地,被安置进城镇或城郊的小房间里。他们失去了过往生活的方式,面临全新的挑战。大部分的牧民都不会说汉语,因此被迫迁离土地之后,他们基本上无事可做,完全没有就业的机会。并且没有足够的土地来蓄养牲畜,以至于不得不全部销售出去。关于出售牲畜的后果,请看看这则视频,它谈到了政府安置游牧民族的政策 http://sites.asiasociety.org/chinagreen/origins-of-rivers-omens-of-a-crisis/

watch this video

Resettlement projects in nomadic communities in Qinghai province is very popular(in a negitive way) these years and there are many problems in the relocated nomadic communities. Nomads were kicked out from their land and arranged in small rooms/spaces in towns and urban areas, and they lost their way of live and encountering a new chanllenge. Most of the nomads are iliterate in Chinese language and thus when they kicked out from their land, they have almost nothing to do. No job opportunities at all. And they dont have enough land to keep their livestock and they have to sell them. What will if they sell their livestock? please watch this video, it talks about government policies over nomads relocation. http://sites.asiasociety.org/chinagreen/origins-of-rivers-omens-of-a-crisis/#comments

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匿名 | Anonymous



我已经在这些地区装置了C4槽和土壤碳。Robert Vincin (见谷歌)

Restoring PRC 100yr plan

Setting out a trees for grass land will fail! I have just returned for Provinces close to the region. What is needed is 100yr plan. Trees are C3 taking carbon from soil.We need to deliver rain by planting from coast C4 vegetation to build soil carbon/elements and the transpiration links. Removing the nomadic people who managed the grass/dung for 1,000yrs like those in Qinghai a mistake.
I have planted out C4 sinks in these areas and soil carbon follows. (no computer translation please) Robert Vincin (see Google)

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匿名 | Anonymous

What were the ccause of warming of the Tibetan plateau?

many of chinese scholars and scientists are doing lots of research in order to get the scientific reasons for warming the Tibetan plateau twice as fast as the rest of the world. However, They failed to study the chinese policy impacts on warming the Tibetan plateau as i did't find any research paper about the policies adopted and implementation on the Tibetan plateau. The chinese policies are the main causes of warming the plateau because they adopted and implementated various policies without involment or participation of local Tibetans; these Tibetans have traditional ecological knowledge which learned and experienced in daily life from one generation to generation, they understand about the plateau much better than so called chinese scholars and scientists.