Dalai Lama Voices Concern Over 'Third Pole'

By SARANSH SEHGAL | Friday, April 8, 2011

NEW DELHI, India—While keeping in him the quest to fight for his homeland Tibet, the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama used concerns for the ecology of Tibet as a major tool to counter China.

In this photo taken on April 19, 2010, Chinese work near ice-melt in the source region of China's Yellow River outside of Maduo on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, in northwest China's Qinghai province. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Tibetan plateau, which is also known as Earth’s “Third Pole” needed special attention, the Dalai Lama said. He asked Asia’s other giant India to pressure Beijing over climate change in Tibet, blaming China’s environmental policies in Tibet as hugely impacting the South Asian region.

Climate change has become such a hot topic attracting huge attention and support not only from neighboring countries of the Tibetan plateau, but also but also from foreign countries and environmental organizations which are pressuring countries to save the global ecosystem.

As for the Dalai Lama, many believe if his voice were raised to save the ecology of Tibet, it could add more support and be a game-changer—a political agenda sidelined in favor of climate issues.

The Dalai Lama has called for special attention to ecology in Tibet. "It's something very, very essential," he said in a function in New Delhi on April 2. Quoting Chinese experts the spiritual leader said that the Tibetan glaciers were retreating faster than any elsewhere in the world. The glaciers are considered vital lifelines for Asian rivers, including the Indus, the Mekong and the Ganges. Once they vanish, water supplies in those regions will be threatened.

As these major rivers come from the Tibetan plateau and "since millions of Indians use water coming from the Himalayan glacier, so you have certain rights to show your concern about the ecology of that plateau," the Dalai Lama told a large audience, wanting India to take up the issue forcefully with China.

India and China, which constitute more than a third of the world’s population, are served by these Tibetan glaciers. Rising demand has put a strain on access to freshwater between the two big nations. The Tibetan region is the world’s largest and highest plateau, and contains the biggest ice fields outside the Antarctic or Arctic, which is why many environmentalists call it the Earth’s “Third Pole.”

Global warming in the glacial region has direct aftereffects, not only in Tibet but to most of the South Asian region. The water repository in Tibet serves as a lifeline to millions of people in countries in the Asian continent.

Greenpeace has predicted that if the current trend of warming continues, 80 percent of Himalayan glaciers will be gone in 30 years. Environmental problems on the plateau are made up because of the greater demand for water in the region and countries downstream.

Interestingly the Dalai Lama’s warning comes in the kindle of a rare US recommendation that the United States should work with the Chinese regime for the economic development and cultural preservation of the region. “There are steps that the United States can take that might not only bring direct benefits to the Tibetan people, but also to build a foundation of trust between Washington and Beijing on Tibetan affairs,” the report by the senate foreign relations committee recently said.

Last year the whistle blower website WikiLeaks disclosed US secret diplomatic documents which revealed that the Dalai Lama told Timothy Roemer, the US ambassador to India, that the political agenda should be sidelined in favor of climate issues.

"The political agenda should be sidelined for five to 10 years and the international community should shift its focus to climate change on the Tibetan plateau. Melting glaciers, deforestation and increasingly polluted water from mining projects were problems that cannot wait, but the Tibetans could wait five to 10 years for a political solution," the leaked memo quoted the Dalai Lama as telling ambassador Roemer during a 2009 meeting, according to the cable obtained by WikiLeaks.

Western environmentalists and activists have been discussing the danger on the third pole and support the Dalai Lama’s call for environment first.

The function organized by the Tibet Initiative Deutschland in late March had environmental experts in Berlin discussing China’s environmental policies in Tibet—the ongoing environmental destruction inside Tibet, the reckless extraction of natural resources, China's water policies and the situation of Tibetan nomads.

In his speech, Kelsang Gyaltsen, the special envoy of the Dalai Lama, identified the environmental issue as “symptomatic for the disenfranchisement of the Tibetan people.

These kinds of problems could only be solved if there was a political solution for Tibet.”

Beijing, despite large industrial development in the Tibetan cities, have been uprooting nomadic life in the high Himalayan plateau in a move to urbanize and stabilize the region concerning border issues, and exercise better social and political control.

Beijing—in its own way of worrying—has been doing its bit to protect Tibet’s ecology. China’s State Council, the country’s top government body, last week approved a 20-year plan to protect ecosystems of the Tibetan plateau, according to the website of the Environmental Protection Ministry.

“The Tibetan plateau is important not only to China but also to central and southeast Asia,” says Yao Tandong, the director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Beijing-based Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research. “The significance of the plan cannot be overstated.”

In a move to save the ecology of the region, a large solar plant will be operational in May in the Tibetan Autonomous Region supplying electricity to more than 100,000 farming and herding families in its first phase.

Many campaigners and Western NGOs are in unity with the Tibetan exiles, advocating the fundamental human right of Tibetans to environmental self-determination in their homeland.

"In terms of the ecological aspect of the issue, more than a billion people in the Asian region may be dependent on the water that comes from rivers that originate on the Tibetan plateau,” the Dalai Lama said during the sixth International conference of Tibet Support Groups in November. “Therefore, people in the region who will be impacted by changes to the Tibetan environment have the right to express their concern at the future of Tibet.”

Saransh Sehgal is a writer based in Dharamsala, India, who can be reached at info@mcllo.com.

No comments: