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Dharamshala — “The Chinese occupation of Tibet is the root cause of the climate or environmental mismanagement in Tibet. We have witnessed many environmental disasters and problems in Tibet, such as the melting of glaciers. Tibet is warming up two to three times faster than the rest of the world, which will have an impact on water, 1.4 billion people in Asia depend on water flowing from Tibet,” said Dr Lobsang Yangtso, on Earth day.

To celebrate Earth Day, the Buddhist Centre in London and the International Tibet Network (ITN) organised a discussion on Tibet's environment, spiritual connection to conservation and ways you can take action, on April 22, 2022, entitled "The Climate Crisis Facing Tibet". The speakers were Dr Lobsang Yangtso, environmental researcher and coordinator of ITN, and Rashi Jauhri, campaigns coordinator for ITN. The webinar was moderated by Kunsang Kelden, Coordinator of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the Buddhist Center.

The event was organized to raise awareness about the impact of global warming on the Tibetan plateau, which has led to the melting of Himalayan glaciers. The discussion also focused on Tibet's historical and cultural links to environmental conservation and spirituality through Buddhism.

Dr Lobsang started off the discussion by stating, “When we talk about Tibet, I think it is essential for everyone to know that first of all, Tibet is under occupation and we also have to understand that the Chinese occupation of Tibet is the root cause of the mismanagement of the climate or environment in Tibet. Because of the climate change and because of the man-made activities or Chinese government's policy, we see and have witnessed huge number of environment disasters and environment problems in Tibet such as the melting of glaciers or melting of permafrost and then grassland degradation as well. When we look at why Tibet is facing such kind of problem is that, first, Tibet is also the front line of global climate crisis, which means that as compared to the global average temperature, Tibet is warming two to three times faster than the rest of the world. And because of that warming, the glaciers are melting, very fast and drastically which will leave impact on the water, the river sources that flows from Tibet to the downstream nations.” She added that almost like 1.4 billion Asian populations are dependent on the water that flows from Tibet.

“As far as Tibet is concerned, the real problem is that, if we look at the global climate discussions, Tibetans are officially not represented in the UN climate discussions. Thus, Tibetans are also ignored in making and implementation of climate policies. We are not being part in the whole global discussion. It is very difficult and challenging, but I think that today being the Earth Day everyone has a responsibility in, first and foremost creating awareness about Tibet climate crisis. Educating yourself is really important,” She said and suggested that simple things like preserving water and planting trees are things everyone can do in order to protect the environment and climate change.

Furthermore, the activist exclaimed that there needs to be collaboration on research to bring about substantive change, because, “Local Tibetan people are excluded from climate policy-making, traditional knowledge or traditional practices of environmental protection and conservation are totally ignored in the field of climate change, policy making, etc.” She added.

“When it comes to climate justice or people who work for the climate, environmental advocates and environmentalists in Tibet - when they go out to talk about climate change, they end up in jail and are politicised by the Chinese government. So they face a lot of difficult situations, not only for themselves but also for their family members." She narrated that these become additional burden for climate activists espousing the cause of Tibet.

On the interconnectedness of environment and spirituality, she opined, “Religion and Buddhism has really influenced environment conservation and their practices as well. The practice of environmental protection or the practice environment conservation has been always within the Tibetan community historically.”

Rashi spoke about the ongoing campaigns at ITN and with Tibet third pole Tibet climate Crisis. She noted that groups from around the world are prioritizing the climate crisis in Tibet this year, with Cop 27 to be held in Egypt, with the goal of raising awareness of the climate crisis in occupied Tibet. The goal is to have Tibetan voices highlight the importance of the climate crisis narrative.

In agreement with Dr Lobsang, she said, "The Chinese authorities have resettled about 2 million nomads in the last two years. These Tibetan nomads have lived on the grasslands for millennia and are a proud and resilient people. This also has an impact on the biodiversity of the region. And the reason the Chinese authorities have done this is to build national parks and reserves; it is to glorify the landscape for Chinese tourists.

The discussion focused on the history of conservation in Tibet. Dr Lobsang explained the belief of sacredness associated with nature and added, "This is a belief system that has existed for thousands of years and is influenced by both the Bon religion and Buddhism. When we talk about sacred mountains or rivers, we mean that these mountains and rivers are not there to be exploited. This is what is happening in Tibet now. And so, every year, Tibetans, during the auspicious days or during the Tibetan new year, Tibetans go up to the mountain and worship them. But right now, what's really happening is that because of Chinese laws, tourists are going up there and polluting it. She recalled visiting her hometown in Tibet and witnessing the amount of garbage thrown into the river.

She explained that under the 13th Dalai Lama, Tibet had government policies in terms of environmental protection in Tibetan language. She added that during the month of Saka Dawa, which is an auspicious month for Buddhism, people are careful not to go to the mountains and not to pollute. She also contradicted the Chinese thinking that nomads are the cause of the destruction of the environment or the grasslands of the Tibetan plateau, pointing out the nomadic lifestyle close to nature. She also criticised top-down policies that do not take into account grassroots input, stressing the importance of involving Tibetans in global discussions on the environment.

The conversation also highlighted that in the case of an occupied region like Tibet, climate action is political action. Therefore, the speakers reiterated that it is very important for young people to be interested and involved in environmental issues. She cited the case of India as an example and told how the water of the Brahmaputra River is affected. She added, "I think downstream countries like Laos, Cambodia and Thailand are also affected and facing a critical situation because of the water flowing from the Tibetan rivers, China is building mega dams on the rivers. So I think the downstream nations should have a conversation with the Chinese government and then hold China accountable for what they are doing and let them sign a treaty or a water agreement with the downstream nations."

The conversation ended with a list of individual actions we can take to raise awareness of the Tibetan crisis and concluded with a recorded message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama about conserving the planet and wishing for a better future.