China's top legislature on Wednesday adopted a law to protect and conserve the fragile ecosystem on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, with the law taking effect on Sept 1.
Passed at a session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the law emphasizes protection as its cornerstone, adhering to "respecting, complying with and protecting nature", according to Yuan Jie, an official with the NPC's Legislative Affairs Commission.
She said the law stresses "prioritizing protection, and letting nature restore itself".
It prohibits production and construction activities that may cause soil erosion in areas that already suffer severe soil erosion or have a fragile ecology.
It bans sand mining and mining activities that do not meet conservation requirements in nature reserves for river sources and imposes strict rules against the construction of new small hydropower stations.
She said the law states that the country should establish a coordination mechanism to enhance conservation on the plateau that is widely known as "the roof of the world", specifying the duties of State Council departments and different levels of government.
With an area of around 2.58 million square kilometers, the plateau covers not only the Tibet autonomous region and Qinghai province, but also parts of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan provinces.
Yuan highlighted measures in the law that aim to beef up biodiversity conservation.
Relevant State Council departments and different levels of government on the plateau should take effective measures to establish ecological corridors to help enhance the integrity and connectivity of the region's ecosystems, she said.
The law includes clauses that target travelers to the plateau.
It prescribes penalties for those who litter, stipulating that individuals in serious circumstances shall be fined between 500 and 10,000 yuan ($72 to $1,445).
"As the May Day holiday approaches, the number of tourists visiting Mount Qomolangma (known as Mount Everest in the West) is increasing, as is the amount of litter left by tourists. I believe the law will raise public awareness of protecting the environment and curb such behaviors," said Lhapa Tsering of the Qomolangma National Nature Reserve Administration.
The law is a new addition to China's legislation for special regions. Previously, the national legislature had enacted dedicated laws to protect the two longest rivers in China, the Yangtze and the Yellow, as well as the fertile black soil in Northeast China, which is one of three major humus-rich regions in the world.
The significance of the new law, however, goes far beyond the plateau. The region is the origin of some of the longest rivers in the world, including the Yangtze and the Yellow, which combine to nourish around 3 billion people.
"Despite having one of the best ecological environments in the world, the natural ecosystem of the plateau is inherently fragile and sensitive," said Shui Yanping, deputy director of the Department of Ecology and Environment of the Tibet autonomous region.
"Once damaged, it is difficult to repair," she said.
The plateau faces multiple ecological challenges, including retreating glaciers, melting permafrost and the impact of global warming, Shui added.
Xinhua contributed to this story.