The Yangtze River is one of the largest and longest rivers in Asia. The river originates in the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau (headwater reach), passes through the mountainous provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Chongqing (upper reach), flows into the Central Plain (middle reach) and Lower Plain (lower reach), and finally empties into the East China Sea in Shanghai (estuary). The Yangtze River Economic Belt (YREB; Fig. 1) has a surface area of 2.1 million km2, which includes 11 provinces and municipalities from Yunnan and Sichuan in the west to Shanghai in the east. The YREB contributes over 40% of both the population and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of China . In 2014, the State Council of China developed and implemented a national policy to oversee sustainable development of the YREB . Since then, governmental agencies and departments have been working on ambitious development plans with milestones in 2020 and 2030, that target primarily transportation (water, ground, and air) and urban development sectors. Ideally, this framework will extend from the central government to local authorities. However, the environmental and ecological conditions of the Yangtze River Basin have been heavily impacted by prior anthropogenic activities [2–4]. Since January 2016, the Chinese government has begun emphasizing the ecological conservation component in its development . Although this in itself is an encouraging sign, science-based protocols are lacking to guide this development in a real “green” way (i.e., a sustainable way or a way with minimal environmental impact). In this paper, we present current stressors, environmental and ecological status and challenges in the YREB, and offer policy recommendations on how to include ecological conservation into its development. We also synthesize the findings from multiple field investigations (e.g., field investigations by a team of Chinese Academy of Sciences from August 2015 to January 2016; one field investigation and consultation organized by China Association for Science and Technology) and monitored data (e.g., Ministry of Water Resources and Chinese Academy of Sciences) to provide guidance that could potentially mitigate impacts of future development.
Fig. 1. (Color online) The location of the Yangtze River Economic Belt (YREB) and its urban groups (in red triangles) and subregions. TGR = Three Gorges Reservoir, GZB = Gezhou Ba Dam.