15 provincial regions will draw red lines for demarcated area by the end of year
China has designated 610,000 square kilometers of land as key ecological zones with a fragile environmental status. The demarcated area covers 15 provincial regions, including Beijing, and is intended to strengthen ecological protection, the Ministry of Environmental Protection announced on Monday.
The protected zones, approved by the State Council, or the country's Cabinet, cover about 25 percent of the entire territorial area of these regions, including 11 provincial regions along the Yangtze River basin, according to the ministry.
The zones were delimited as required by a document issued by the central authorities early last year, which makes establishing "red lines" for ecological protection part of a larger national strategy. Red lines, or hongxian, are frequently used in China to describe geographical boundaries that should not be crossed.
The document stresses that the principle of red lines for ecological protection is meant to strictly regulate and manage areas where commercial and/or industrial development is prohibited, according to the law on the basis of safeguarding the nation's ecology.
Major portions of the zones encircled by red lines in the 15 provincial regions are areas with important ecological functions and those that have a fragile environment. All nature reserves are included in such protected areas, said Cheng Lifeng, head of the ministry's nature and ecology conservation department.
"Typically, the size of the protected areas cannot be reduced but can only be increased. State Council approval must precede any planned reductions," he said.
Cheng said the authorities are still drafting custom-tailored regulations for areas with different ecological functions, and lists of what can be done will be drafted to facilitate management and protection measures.
"The regulations will be drafted after widely soliciting opinions from local governments and the public to ensure they are practical and effective," he said.
Cheng also said local governments will begin demarcation work and set up boundary signs soon for protected areas, with a target to complete this work by the end of June.
Gao Jixi, director of the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences and also a senior adviser of the ministry for the red line strategy, said the red lines were drawn after scientific assessments based on integrity of ecological systems instead of administrative areas.
The most difficult and time-consuming work in determining where to draw the red lines is coordinating decisions with major development plans, he said.
"The key basis for the line drawing is scientific assessment. If the assessment has determined an area to be key for an ecological system's integrity and protection, priority will be given to protection. Development space can be reserved only on the precondition that protection is guaranteed," he said.
The ministry and the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic planner, will guide and help the other provincial regions draw red lines by the end of this year, according to the ministry.
It also said a supervisory platform costing 286 million yuan ( million) has been launched and will be completed by the end of 2020 to monitor areas encircled by the red lines.