“Environmental defenders who are still in jail. Sometimes we feel that we are not part of this whole discussion, people remain silent and they decide which issues to talk about. But I feel that we Tibetans are still fighting for the occupation and the brutal rule and Tibetans inside Tibet will continue to protect our environment.” A statement by Lobsang Yangtso, one of the Tibetan representatives in the Conference of Parties (CoP) 27 in Egypt highlights the two things which is a. the dire situation in Tibet regarding its environment and how China continues to ignore it and pressures the whole world to ignore it as well through its economic clout b. Tibetans who are under this very brutal regime will continue to fight for not only the illegal occupation of Tibet but also continue to preserve and protect its environment which impacts more than a quarter of world population directly.
Lobsang Yangsto who is the programme and environment coordinator at the International Tibet Network (ITN) along with 4 other Tibetan women once again this year came together as an all-women Tibetan representative at the CoP to engage, share and highlight the desecration and destruction of Tibet’s fragile and vital ecosystem under the illegal Chinese occupation. They have been able to engage with various personalities and including leaders of the free world, letting them know the pivotal role that Tibet as the 3rd pole plays in holding the environment of the world together. These leaders include the President of the European Union Commission, USA’s Speaker of the House, the delegation from the Czech Republic and several others. However, they have been once again ignored by the Chinese authorities and their representatives who have been the instigators in the destruction of Tibet’s ecology and environment.
Negligence and Destruction of Tibet’s Environment:
The concept of Tibet as a 3rd pole has been coined and further verified by several scientist, researchers and environmentalist. Even Chinese scientist have led the way here in this recognition but the decision makers from Beijing continue to remain coy on it. Such a narrative and theme can be seen in the fictional novel by the late Tibetan bureaucrat and policy maker Thupten Samphel la titled as “The Copper Mountain”. In this book he illustrates the stark differences in approaches towards Tibet’s environment between the political entity and the intellectual community. Highlighting how it is not only the Tibetans but also the Chinese who are now worried about the irreversible damage being condoned to Tibet’s already fragile environment.
Tibet also has the sobriquet of the “Water Tower of Asia” the reason being that Asia’s booming population is by and large supported by the several rivers originating from Tibet and flowing downstream into the Asian nations. The major rivers include the Brahmaputra, the Mekong, the Indus and the Salween.
Recently, the South China Morning Post reported that Chinese scientists believe that Global Warming is gradually morphing Tibet’s freshwater into toxic mud. They are now worried how this phenomenon is not only threatening the quantity of water flowing from water (which is being confronted because of multiple damming project by the Chinese government) but also the quality of water now. Researchers have also stated how quality assessments are becoming increasingly important for lower riparian livelihoods, despite the fact that till now major focus has been given to the quantity of water coming downstream from Tibet.
An American and Chinese university collaboration of Hydrological experts including associate professor of Hydrological Engineering Di Long of Tsinghua University brought out a report on the projection of irreversible decline in freshwater storage in parts of Asia by 2060. They refer to Terrestrial Water Storage (TWS) and how this is now being impacted by Global climate change. This phenomenon comes due to the large glacial melt occurring in Tibet which impacts it water storage capacity as the formation of glaciers is a slow process and take decades to culminate. This is further accelerated by the polices implemented in Tibet by Beijing that pushes for development but neglects sustainability.
Even with such pressing reports Beijing continuously ignores Tibet, Tibetans and those calling for a shift in policy in Tibet for safeguarding the ecology. In fact, they practice the opposite and arbitrarily imprison and sentence the Tibetans who defend and protect their environment be it against the constant damming projects – adhering towards it so called Hydro-Hegemony, mining extensively without any recovery time, needless development of grasslands (that constitutes and holds 20% of world’s soil carbon) and Greenwashing – which sees large number of Tibetans relocated from the ancestral lands in the name of development and for its realization, Beijing has directed a large sum of governmental finances (taxpayers money) which instead could have been utilized consciously in preserving the environment.
Tibetan environmentalist sentenced without any legal justification:
On 2010 Human Rights Watch submitted a report to the Chinese government requesting to rescind the accusations against the philanthropist and environmentalist Karma Samdrup and his brothers. It states “these people embody the characteristics the government says it wants in modern Tibetans – economically successful, lending support to only approved cultural and environmental pursuits, and apolitical – yet they, too, are being treated as criminals.” This illustrates what the Chinese think of Tibetans who are not only apolitical but are trying to bring upward mobility to not only Tibetans but also the Chinese residing in Tibet especially in terms of the quality of life which is intertwined with the state of the environment.
They embody the “Fear of minorities” though in fact these minorities are the real owners of the land of Tibet. Be it whatever Tibetans do, if they do not fall in line with party directives and the authorities, they are sentenced, abducted, silenced and even killed. This is a shame because Karma Samdrup was an individual who was working on saving and preserving Tibet’s pristine ecology that impacts the whole of Asia and the larger world as well. He established one of the very first environmental NGO in Tibet “Three Rivers Environmental Protection Group”. Karma Samdrup continues to remain in prison, serving his unlawful 15-year sentence which he received on 2010 on highly illegal and unjustifiable ground. How many more Karma Samdrup must there be before China and the world wakes up and open their eyes.
A-Nya Sengdra is also another environmental activist who unlike Karma Samdrup is not a rich business but rather a Tibetan Nomad. Yet they share striking similarities in the sense that they both want to preserve and protect Tibet’s fragile and unique ecology and also that both have been sent to prison without formal legal procedures. He is widely respected among his community for his campaign and mobilization against illegal mining activities, poaching of endangered animals and illegal hunting etc. Yet Beijing once again followed its set template in bringing down Tibetans even if they have not broken the law and sentenced A-Nya Sengdra on 6th December, 2019 for 7 years.
The all-women Tibetan representative in Cop 27 called for the world to take attention to Tibet as unique ecological zone whose sensitivities have further and server ramifications to not only Asia by the whole world environmentally. They also questioned why Tibetans are not included in the global climate debate when they Tibet has a major stake in it. And finally called upon the need for a validated space for stateless people who are still under occupation at the CoP meeting because these very people can help with the mitigation, resolution and adoption of efforts in preserving the healthy world that will be sustainable to the future generations to come.
China has to stand up and act on this very pressing situation if they really want to take the mantle of leadership. They cannot ignore the dire health of the Tibet’s degrading environment and the political authorities must work together with the scientist, researchers, environmentalists and activist in protecting the 3rd pole. They should not discriminate and sentence Tibetans who raise these issues and only then will the world be able save the 3rd pole and Tibet.