Include Tibetan plateau in UN discussions: Climate researchers

By Vishal Gulati

Nov 7, 2019

Dharamsala:  In the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference beginning early next month, Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) climate researchers on Thursday sought global intervention to protect the Tibetan plateau — the third largest concentration of ice after the south and north poles — from manmade disaster.

Known as the water tower of Asia, it directly sustains over 150 million people and affects the lives of several billion downstream dwellers mainly in India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The researchers urged the world leaders to recognize the global ecological importance of the plateau and make Tibet central to any discussion on global climate change.

Studies conducted by the Tibetan administration in exile, based in this northern Indian hill town, say the Tibetan plateau is staring at ecological destruction.

The aClimate action for Tibet: The earth’s Third Pole’ campaign, launched during the UN climate change summit or COP21 in Paris in 2015, is continuing, a CTA researcher told IANS.

Hoping that a global agreement emerges when researchers and nation heads from almost 200 nations meet from December 1 to 13 in Madrid in Spain for climate talks, a five-point call to action has been released by the CTA.

It calls for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to recognize the global ecological importance of the Tibetan plateau and strengthen climate change research on the plateau.

The government must respect the traditional knowledge of and way of life in Tibet and regulate urbanisation and tourism in the Tibetan plateau in southwestern China.

Also the international community needs to carry forward the global aClimate action for Tibet: The earth’s Third Pole’ campaign — meaning to bring to the fore the centrality of Tibet in all discussion on climate change.

Sitting at an average elevation of more than 4,000 metres above sea level with an area of 2.5 million square kilometres, the Tibetan plateau is the highest and largest plateau on earth.

With 46,000 glaciers, the region, after the North Pole and the South Pole, is home to the third-largest natural repository of ice, and the largest source of accessible freshwater on earth.

This makes it the head source of Asia’s six largest rivers — flowing into the 10 most-densely populated nations that support the lives of 1.5 billion people.

According to the CTA, unfortunately the Tibetan plateau has seen an increase in temperature of approximately 0.3 degrees Celsius in every decade.

This means that over the past 50 years the temperature has increased by 1.3 degrees Celsius, which is three times the global average, says a researcher.

As a result, 82 per cent of the ice has retreated with 66 percent of the glaciers in danger of melting by 2050.

This would have disastrous consequences for the global society in general and in particular for the people of South Asia, he told IANS.

Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel laureate the Dalai Lama has been saying his homeland Tibet is currently vulnerable to climate change.

He has been emphasizing that “climate change is not the concern of just one or two nations. It is an issue that effects all humanity and every living being on this earth and that there is a real need for a greater sense of global responsibility based on a sense of the oneness of humanity”.

Likewise, democratically elected CTA President Lobsang Sangay has asserted “to have a comprehensive understanding of global climate change, it’s very important to study what is happening on the Tibetan Plateau”

Sangay urged the UNFCCC “to recognize the global ecological significance of the Tibetan plateau, and make Tibet central to any discussion on global climate change”.

Placing concerns of the Tibetan people, Environment and Development Desk of CTA’s Tibet Policy Institute Tempa Gyaltsen Zamha said in a statement: “Tibet has seen increasing cases of floods and landslides since 2016, primarily due to climate change but exacerbated by excessive mining and construction activities in Tibet in recent years.”

He urged the Chinese government to “implement more pro-active climate awareness programs, adaptation and mitigation efforts, and a proper disaster relief mechanism in the Tibetan areas to reduce possible disasters and its effects”.

Climate researchers at the University of East Anglia and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in an online paper in US academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences say the wettest individual year reconstructed in 3,500 years in northeastern Tibet is 2010.

They say precipitation during the past 50 years in the plateau has been historically high. They have reconstructed precipitation records by using sub-fossil, archaeological and living juniper tree samples from the plateau.

The 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the third most important Tibetan religious head, also believes Tibet is currently highly vulnerable to climate change.

“It’s an unfortunate fact that the temperature of the Tibetan plateau is increasing faster than most other places on earth due to climate change,” said the Buddhist monk in a write-up titled “Walking the Path of Environmental: Buddhism through Compassion and Emptiness” in Conservation Biology, a prestigious scientific journal.

The Dalai Lama, along with many of his supporters, fled Tibet and took refuge in India when Chinese troops moved in and took control of Lhasa in 1959. India is home to around 100,000 Tibetans. IANS