Tibet 2003: State of the EnvironmentA Roadmap for Collaborative Development
|Mr. Thubten Samphel (R),Secretary of Department of Information and International Relations and Ms. Tsering Yangkyi (L), Section Head of the Environment and Development Desk addressing the press this morning on ‘Tibet 2003: State of the Environment”.|
Dharamsala, 14 July 2003: In his foreword Kalon Tripa, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, calls the Report a “positive roadmap” which “could serve as a solid basis for greater collaborative work in other vital areas”. The Report on the state of Tibet’s environment was released today by the Department of Information and International Relations.
In view of the convergence of official concern for the Tibetan Plateau’s protection, Samdhong Rinpoche urged the People’s Republic of China to apply “more enlightened thinking for the welfare of the future generations of Tibetans and peoples of the neighbouring countries who benefit by the resources of the eco-system of the world’s largest plateau.
“I believe that the environment and the critical need for environmental protection are two areas where the views of Beijing and the Central Tibetan Administration genuinely converge”, stated the Tibetan leader.
But the Report reveals that, despite officially introducing more environment-friendly policies in recent years, China continues to flood Tibet with potentially destructive mega development projects such as railway routes, oil and gas pipelines, petrochemical complexes, hydro dams, construction of airports, highways, military bases and new cities for migrants from Mainland China. The influx of millions of Chinese settlers to a fragile arid land is more than the land can sustainably bear. The current much-vaunted Western Development Program will facilitate extraction of Tibet’s natural resources to benefit China.
This White Paper documents the massive mismanagement of Tibet’s environment for the past 50 years, which now results in biodiversity loss, grassland degradation and devastating floods in the downstream regions of South and Southeast Asia.
Tibet 2003: State of the Environment is the latest release in CTA’s policy series on Tibet’s environment. The Report calls for China to reconsider current mega projects and replace them with small-scale development schemes that materially benefit Tibetans without undermining the integrity of Tibet’s eco-system. Mammoth extractive projects geared towards exploitation of Tibet’s natural resources include planned gold, copper and chromite mines, power grids and cascades of hydro dams. It is feared by experts that these may prove disastrous for Tibet, Mainland China and all the neighbouring countries that depend on the life-sustaining rivers of the Tibetan Plateau.
The PRC’s catastrophic 1998 Yangtze floods, acknowledged to be caused by decades of rampant deforestation in Tibet, are a clear lesson that development cannot be at the price of the whole region’s environment. Now China has introduced reforestation and grassland restoration policies, but this report shows that they are seldom effective and rarely benefit poor Tibetans whose livelihoods depend on these natural resources.
The White Paper highlights the degradation of Tibet’s vast prairies – only 50 years ago home to vast wild herds, mingling freely with the nomads’ herds of yak and sheep. When a rainforest is destroyed the impact causes dismay worldwide, but when state policy mistakes degrade a vast rangeland, the loss of biodiversity and nomadic livelihoods is less quantifiable but equally disastrous.
A current example of the gap between Beijing’s pledges of environmental concern, and actual practice, is the planned ecological and visual destruction of a region of legendary beauty and exceptional biodiversity. This project is particularly painful for Tibetans.
- The proposed US$250 million dam on Megoe Lake (Tib: Megoe Tso-Ring, Ch: Mugecuo) is in rugged southeastern Tibet. Megoe Lake is located at 102 degrees east and 30 degrees north, close to the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, on a tributary of the Yangtze River. This pilgrimage lake, perched at 4,000 m, is surrounded by over 30 smaller lakes. It is famous among Chinese and global ecologists, botanists, geologists and landscape photographers.
- Megoe Lake is sacred to Tibetans who want this precious pilgrimage lake to be given UNESCO World Heritage listing so the world can share it. Nearby World Heritage areas in Tibet include Jiuzhaigou (Tib: Zitsa Degu), famous for its stunning landscape of forested valleys, coloured lakes and wildlife, and attracting at least a million Chinese visitors a year.
- The natural beauty of Megoe Lake will be sacrificed to China’s hunger for electricity, which will not benefit poor, displaced and compulsorily resettled Tibetans, as the electricity will go to Chinese industries below Tibet in the Sichuan basin.
- In any development there are costs and benefits. But Chinese industry collects all the benefits of this project, while the Tibetans and the landscape bear all the costs.
- China’s central government should step in to save this scenic jewel of world importance, so it can be protected for all humanity.
- Saving rather than drowning this lake is in accord with China’s official Western Development Program, which calls for protection of the environment as well as development.
The Report in Print: Printed copies of the Report are available from the Department of Information and International Relations, Gangchen Kyishong, Dharamsala, HP 176215 INDIA or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
Sonam N. Dagpo
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