The global impact of environmental protection on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

Tibetan antelopes are pictured at the Drolkar Lake area in Hoh Xil, northwest China's Qinghai Province, on June 18, 2023. (Xinhua/Zhang Hongxiang)

XINING, Sept. 2 (Xinhua) -- Nine years ago, Ren Feipeng's scientific survey of the source region of the Yangtze River unveiled a breathtaking landscape -- majestic, sacred snow-capped mountains, meandering rivers, enchanting wetlands, and the resilient Tibetan antelope adding to the natural splendor.

The Sanjiangyuan area, nestled in the southern part of Qinghai Province in northwest China, holds the origins of three mighty rivers -- the Yangtze, Yellow, and Lancang. This region is not only highly sensitive to climate change within Asia but also plays a crucial role in the broader context of the Northern Hemisphere and the entire world.

Ren, 41, is a researcher at the Changjiang River Scientific Research Institute, driven by a profound passion for unraveling the intricacies of plant ecological diversity. He believes that the vegetation and soil bear a remarkable sensitivity to external environmental shifts, which are direct indicators of ecological transformations. With his extensive knowledge of environmental geography and ecology, Ren's research honed in on the vegetation and soil ecosystems of China's Sanjiangyuan area.

Ren likened the watershed ecosystem to the human body, "where vegetation and soil act as its protective skin, nurturing and sustaining a myriad of life forms." He acknowledged that delving into the study of plants can be a challenging and sometimes monotonous endeavor. "Yet, through observation and analysis of copious data, researchers can discern the environmental preferences and overall health of the vital vegetation ecology, shedding light on the hidden stories of the natural world."

After years of observing simulated warming experiments, Ren discovered that when the temperature increase reaches or exceeds 3 degrees Celsius, the alpine meadow ecosystem undergoes substantial and noticeable transformations. Some of his findings have provided invaluable theoretical underpinnings to the preservation and safeguarding of the plant ecosystem across the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Ecological conservation efforts on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau are not solely the passion of dedicated researchers like Ren but is also a priority for the Chinese government. China, representing the interests of developing nations, has long been at the forefront of advocating for and participating in global climate negotiations. In this role, China has consistently played a constructive part in the worldwide governance of climate change, showcasing its commitment to addressing this global challenge.

Wetlands, often referred to as the "kidneys of the earth," are essential in maintaining ecological balance. Over the past decade, Qinghai Province has made substantial investments, totaling 1.187 billion yuan (about 164 million U.S. dollars), into 226 wetland protection and restoration projects, such as water purification and biodiversity initiatives. As a result, degraded wetlands have been successfully restored and the environment continues to improve.

Qinghai Lake, China's largest inland saltwater lake, experienced a remarkable water level rise of over 3 meters between 2005 and 2019. Ma Jianhai, head of the wetland management office at Qinghai provincial forestry and grassland bureau, said that in addressing the challenges posed by the rising water levels in lakes including Qinghai Lake and Gahai Lake, local government allocated 209 million yuan for land relocation and other initiatives, benefiting 6,083 households.

Also, in the wetlands of Gahai and Quanwan, local governments, herders, and volunteers have collaborated to construct artificial nests for rare bird species, ensuring the safety of their habitats.

Shen Yongping, a researcher at the Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, noted that in recent years the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has faced challenges such as reduced ecosystem stability and escalating pressure on resources and the environment due to climate change and increased human activities.

"While threats like glacier retreat, melting permafrost, and other risks persist, a series of engineering projects and monitoring efforts have bolstered the ecosystem's resilience and adaptability," Shen said, adding that these initiatives serve as valuable references for mitigating the impact of climate change.