Huge areas to be off-limits to economic development

China has approved plans by 15 provinces and regions to draw up ecological "red lines" that will put large swaths of its territory off-limits to economic development.

China has approved plans by 15 provinces and regions to draw up ecological “red lines” that will put large swaths of its territory off-limits to economic development, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said yesterday.

The State Council, or China’s cabinet, has authorized the “red line” plans from Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Ningxia, and 11 regions along the Yangtze River Economic Belt, according to Cheng Lifeng, head of the ministry’s Department of Nature and Ecology Conservation.

The zones demarcated by the “red lines” have a combined area of 610,000 square kilometers, or about a quarter of the total land area in the 15 provincial regions, said Cheng.

They cover various nature reserves, scenic areas, forest parks, geological parks, and wetlands, he said.

Last year, central authorities issued guidelines on the ecological red line strategy that will enforce strict protection over certain zones.

The zones will be clearly defined nationwide by the end of 2020, according to the guidelines.

Cheng said the country’s 16 remaining provincial-level regions should complete the drawing of their ecological “red lines” by the end of this year.

Human activity will not be banned in the “red line” zones, but will be under rigorous regulation, said Gao Jixi, an environmental expert advising the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The zones can be rationally developed, but their area should not be reduced and their ecological functions should not be harmed, Gao said.

Red lines for 25% of country

The “ecological protection red line” scheme was first devised in 2011 amid fears that decades of “irrational development” had put China’s environment under heavy strain.

It is designed to ban or restrict industrial development in wetlands, forests, national parks or protected nature zones.

Li Ganjie, China’s environment minister, said in an address last week that the country would eventually aim to protect as much as a quarter of the country’s territory using the “red line” scheme.

China is now struggling to bring vast amounts of contaminated farmland back into play as it bids to keep agricultural output at a maximum while at the same time curbing excessive pesticide and fertilizer use and overgrazing. China has to provide food for a fifth of the world’s population using just 7 percent of global farmland.

The country is also in the middle of a reforestation campaign and aims to plant an area the size of Ireland with trees this year, it said last month.

China is stepping up its effort to fight pollution and contain environmental damage, as decades of growth have left the country with smog, polluted water, and contaminated soil. The Communist Party of China has incorporated “Beautiful China” into its two-stage development plan for the building of a great modern socialist country.

The government has passed its toughest-ever environmental protection law, and introduced a “river chief” system to protect water resources. 

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