BEIJING, June 5 (Xinhua) -- The vast Qilian mountain range in northwest China is starting to heal from decades of over exploitation, under the largest ecological restoration campaign in more than half a century.
In progress of a Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) campaign starting more than a year ago, illegal mines and unlicensed hydropower plants closed, sewage treatment monitoring increased, and tourism construction halted, and over 90 percent of environmental violations have been corrected, according to local authorities in Zhangye of Gansu Province.
The Qilian Mountains stretching the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai have long been designated a significant shelter zone helping to hold the ecological balance in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, blocking the invasion of the northern desert. Rivers, along which more than five million people reside, depend on the snow and glaciers on the mountains for water.
But excessive and disorderly development since the 1960s had put the area in deep crisis, with water sources contaminated and grassland degraded, until officials moved to tackle environmental problems.
Despite progress, the situation remains grim and more efforts are needed, according to an MEP inspection, citing illicit mining and hydropower projects that still exist throughout the region.
In response, local officials have promised that all man-made pollution and disruption will stop by the end of 2017.
Qilian represents the country's ongoing shift from GDP obsession to a more balanced growth philosophy that puts equal, if not greater, emphasis on the natural environment.
More energy has been channeled into cleaning up the economy, which had long been powered by polluting heavy industries. Stricter rules were imposed on both factories and officials, and violations received tougher penalties.
The MEP has expanded its inspections to include greenhouse gas emissions and energy saving, and as well as to wider geographical areas, including smog-shrouded northern Beijing-Tianjin--Hebei and the less-developed northwest.
The former minister of environmental protection Chen Jining said earlier this year that more than 6,400 officials had been held accountable during inspections of 16 provinces.
"All 31 provinces will be covered this year to prompt local governments to fulfill their duties," he said.
"Modern industrialization was pushed forward when we were unaware of the capacity of the environment in the world, which resulted in an ecological crisis," said Qiao Qingju, a professor with the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
In its drive for stellar economic success, China was confronted by serious environmental issues, some still lingering.
During a senior CPC meeting last month, policy makers agreed that China should firmly reject development models that damaged or destroyed the environment, and bade farewell to practices that boosted short-term economic growth at the cost of the environment.
"The country should speed up transformation from over-reliance on resource consumption, high energy use and high emissions to innovation-driven growth," according to a statement released after the meeting.
On Monday, China set its theme for the 46th World Environment Day: "Clear waters and lush mountains as valuable as gold and silver."
The move to a more sustainable growth path has been steadily advancing for years.
More local governments, including Fujian, have scrapped GDP-obsessed assessments in evaluations and given environmental issues higher weighting.
While glutted and polluting industries have been downsized, high-tech and green sectors are being given stronger support, including for electric cars, energy saving and emissions reduction.
The energy mix has also been improved, with less coal-burning plants and more solar energy and hydropower stations; China has become the largest renewable energy market in the world.
While U.S. President Donald Trump has decided to pull out of the Paris Agreement, a landmark global pact to fight climate change, China has stayed firm.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said China would remain committed to upholding and promoting global governance on climate change and take an active part in the multilateral process.
China has pledged to cut its carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 60-65 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 and raise the share of non-fossil energy use in total consumption to about 20 percent. Enditem