Global Times: Collaborative, creative means in protecting Xin'an River highlights new approach for China's cross-regional ecological governance
BEIJING, Sept. 4, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- In his report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, proposed to comprehensively advance the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through a Chinese path to modernization - the modernization of a huge population, of common prosperity for all, of material and cultural-ethical advancement, of harmony between humanity and nature, and of peaceful development.
Advancing Chinese modernization is a systematic endeavor and also an exploratory undertaking. It is through this framework that we wish to illustrate the process of the Chinese path to modernization through a series of landmark projects, touching stories, and visionary plans.
In this installment, we trace along the stream of the Xin'an River, which flows in East China's Anhui and Zhejiang provinces, some of China's most-developed regions facing the dilemmas of industrial development and ecological protection. Through a collaborative and creative way, a cross-provincial ecological compensation mechanism has been built, setting a model in pursuing harmony between humanity and nature.
Xin'an River, which originates in Huangshan, East China's Anhui Province starting at an altitude of 1,629.8 meters, winds its way for over 300 kilometers through picturesque mountains and valleys, and eventually converges in Chun'an county, East China's Zhejiang Province, creating the Qiandao Lake before flowing into the Qiantang River.
With rapid economic and social development, in the early years, the upper reaches of the Xin'an River basin suffered from ecological degradation due to rapid industrialization and urbanization. Industrial pollution, domestic waste, and agricultural runoff expanded sharply, leading to a year-on-year decline in water quality.
The once clear river water became a source of concern for the people on both banks. The shared fate of drinking from the same river made the people of Anhui and Zhejiang realize the urgency of working together to protect their "mother river."
In the new era, the relationship between key breakthroughs and collaborative governance in major river basins has become a subject of Xi Jinping's Thought on Ecological Civilization, evolving from theoretical innovation to practical exploration.
"We shall protect ecosystems as preciously as we protect our eyes, and cherish them as dearly as we cherish our lives," Xi has said, stressing that the development model of "killing the hens for eggs" and "draining the lake for fish" is at a dead end, and the future will be illuminated by eco-friendly development that is in accordance with the rules of nature.
As China's first pilot program for cross-provincial ecological compensation mechanisms, the ecological governance of the Xin'an River basin has provided a new approach for cross-regional ecological mechanisms, especially for the local governments facing the dilemmas of industrial development and ecological protection.
From being a pilot to becoming a model, from financial compensation to industrial cooperation, from collaborative governance to mutual development, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces have continuously innovated their cross-provincial ecological compensation mechanism, gradually forging a path of mutual benefit and win-win cooperation.
Explore a new path
The Qiandao Lake is known for its picturesque landscapes characterized by mountains, pristine waters, and an archipelago of islands. The ever-changing scenery of the lake and mountains resembles paradise on Earth. Today, it attracts a multitude of tourists and serves as a habitat for many wild animals.
However, in the past, the area presented a different picture. At that time, Huangshan city was undergoing rapid industrialization and urbanization. Some wastewater and garbage made its way into Qiandao Lake through the Xin'an River, causing deterioration of water quality in certain areas and the proliferation of blue-green algae, which posed a threat to the survival of fish.
How were the emergent pollution issues addressed in the Xin'an River basin? In 2011, Xi gave an important instruction, emphasizing the significance of protecting Qiandao Lake's high-quality water resources, stating that Zhejiang and Anhui should consider the overall situation, control pollution at its source, and pursue a mutually beneficial and win-win path.
"The Xin'an River basin is the pioneer in the construction of ecological compensation mechanisms in China," said Wu Zhixu, deputy director of the Chun'an sub-bureau of ecology and environment in Hangzhou. Wu revealed that the Anhui segment of the upper Xin'an River accounts for over 60 percent of the total inflow into the Qiandao Lake, making it crucial for the lake's water quality.
In 2012, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces initiated the first nationwide pilot project for a cross-provincial ecological compensation mechanism along the Xin'an River. They established a compensation standard system with the philosophy "those who benefit compensate, and those who protect receive compensation."
The agreement stipulated that as long as Anhui Province achieved water quality standards at the provincial boundary, Zhejiang Province's downstream region would compensate Anhui to the tune of 100 million yuan ($13.8 million) annually. If water quality standards were not met, Anhui Province would need to compensate Zhejiang with the same amount.
During the implementation of this policy, with increasing exchanges between upstream and downstream areas, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces learned from each other's governance experiences, and gradually formed a collaborative work pattern encompassing joint planning, water quality monitoring, garbage collection, law enforcement emergencies, and multilateral exchanges.
Through the joint efforts of both provinces, three phases of pilot projects were conducted in the periods of 2012 to 2014, 2015 to 2017, and 2018 to 2020. Over the course of more than a decade of implementing the Xin'an River ecological compensation mechanism, the central government and the two provinces of Zhejiang and Anhui collectively allocated a total of 5.7 billion yuan in compensation funds.
Chun'an county received a total of 7.5 billion yuan in ecological and environmental protection subsidies, driving the investment of 11.2 billion yuan in ecological and environmental protection. Additionally, 31 projects were incentivized through specialized financial incentives for green transformation, attracting an investment of 4.52 billion yuan.
Today, the comprehensive governance level of the Xin'an River basin has significantly improved. The Qiandao Lake continues to maintain excellent water quality, and its water source is categorized as one of the first "China Good Water" water sources, earning the honor of being one of the first national-level ecological protection and construction demonstration areas, among others.
Moreover, the two provinces of Zhejiang and Anhui have transitioned from a single fund compensation approach to engaging in diverse explorations. The potential value of the ecological compensation mechanism in driving local economic structural transformation and promoting high-quality economic development has gradually become evident.
For instance, in the agricultural sector, an agreement was signed between Jiukeng town in Chun'an, Zhejiang, and Huangtian town in Shexian county, Anhui, to collaboratively cultivate talent in the field of tea and enhance the cooperative efforts in breeding excellent tea varieties. This has turned tea cultivation and tourism into pillar industries driving rural revitalization in the local area. In the field of culture and tourism, the Xin'an River basin has interconnected multiple 5A-level scenic spots and traditional villages along its course.
The Xin'an River basin, serving as an exemplary model, is transitioning from the "joint protection of one river" to the "shared prosperity of one region," providing one of the finest illustrations of the Chinese path to modernization, showing that Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is the "master key" for analyzing and resolving issues.
An inspiring reference
Experiences in the cross-provincial ecological compensation practice in the Xin'an River-Qiandao Lake region also provides a good reference for many other cities and villages in the Yangtze River Delta region.
Xiayang village in Zhejiang's Anji county, for instance, is a popular camping destination with a plethora of natural attractions. It received more than 5,000 camping tourists in 2021, with annual tourism income reaching 2.13 million yuan ($293,324).
But that year, while happy with their booming tourism, some local villagers were also worried about a possible decrease in tourists in the near future because of the then polluted Xiayang stream flowing through the village.
"The industrial wastewater and household waste discharged from the upstream villages can cause pollution and hurt the water environment, and that may discourage campers and affect our village's tourism business," Bao Xin, secretary of the Xiayang village branch of the Communist Party of China (CPC), told the Global Times.
The upper reach of Xiayang stream passes through several villages in Anhui's Guangde city. Due to problems including inadequate communication and different water protection standards, it was difficult to carry out cross-provincial water pollution control work initially, Bao recalled.
The "Xin'an River mode" inspired Xiayang's villagers, who voluntarily went to the upstream villages at the beginning of 2022 and discussed joint management and protection of Xiayang stream's water environment with the residents there. After eight months of concerted efforts on both sides, they issued a series of water quality assessment measures, which involve four villages in Zhejiang and Anhui through which Xiayang stream flows.
According to the measures, each month, the downstream Xiayang village tests the quality of the water in the stream's cross-provincial sections. If the quality reaches the agreed-upon standard, Xiayang village will pay the involved upstream villages 300,000 yuan that month as an ecological compensation.
Encouraged by eco-compensation policy and the consensus on green development, the upstream villages started to work harder in improving Xiayang stream's water quality. In 2022, one of the villages, Shijun, spent 800,000 yuan in building two sewage treatment terminals, and local villagers spontaneously set up a volunteer team to patrol along the stream. Now the clear stream has become Shijun village's popular water rafting destination, bringing it new opportunities to develop ecotourism.
Xiayang stream is a part of the Xitiao Stream - an important tributary of the Taihu Lake. Traversing Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, the 2,445-square-kilometer Taihu Lake is China's third-largest freshwater lake, as well as an essential "water tank" for people in the Yangtze River Delta region.
From the previous blue-green algae's "hard-hit area" to the current boundless clear water, Taihu Lake is a good example of Yangtze River Delta provinces and cities working together to improve water quality and the ecological environment in recent years.
Since 2007, Jiangsu's Wuxi city has spent 110 billion yuan in improving the water environment of Taihu Lake. It has salvaged a total 20.55 billion tons of blue-green algae between 2007 and 2022, accounting for more than 90 percent of the whole blue-green algae being salvaged in the lake.
In Zhejiang, Huzhou city shut down or relocated all the industrial companies within five kilometers of Taihu Lake. It has also removed more than 1,000 mu (0.67 square kilometers) of aquaculture nets from Taihu Lake and its surrounding waters.
More cross-provincial policies and measures were carried out to better protect water quality. In September 2022, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang together released an announcement to establish and improve an integrated mechanism in protecting local cross-border water sources. Earlier in September 2020, the three sides jointly introduced a special protection plan for the cross-border waters there.
Ecological conservation is of vital importance for the sustainable development of the Chinese nation, Xi said as the country marks its first National Ecology Day on August 15, calling it a major political issue that concerns the mission and purpose of the CPC as well as a major social issue that bears upon public wellbeing.
He noted that on the new journey of building a modern socialist country in all respects, efforts should be made to maintain strategic resolve in advancing ecological progress and promote high-quality development in sync with high-standard protection.
Li Junjie and Dou Hao are People's Daily reporters; Shan Jie and Huang Lanlan are Global Times reporters
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SOURCE Global Times