Surrounded by high mountains and with an average elevation of 4,500 meters above sea level, the Tibetan Plateau is one of the most environmentally strategic and sensitive regions in the world.
Known as the “Third Pole” because of its importance as the largest repository of fresh water outside the North and South Poles, it is also home to a rich and unique flora and fauna, including endangered species such as the Tibetan antelope and the snow leopard. However, in recent years, China’s policies of fast-track development based on an urban industrial model in Tibet have been damaging this fragile high-altitude ecosystem. Intensive infrastructure construction and large-scale mining are causing the desertification of the grassland and the pollution of the rivers, with devastating implications for Tibet, but also for the two billion people in Asia who are dependent on its rivers, as well as for the global climate.
In fact, the issue of environment in Tibet is intimately linked to human rights. For Tibetans, who have lived in harmony with nature for centuries based on the principles of interdependence enshrined in their religious beliefs and customs, the degradation of the environment is a deep source of concern, and several environmental protests have taken place in various regions of Tibet in recent years. But the Chinese police, in contravention of international human rights, has been heavy-handed in its response, with arrests and an excessive use of force. Moreover, under the pretext of development and ecological preservation, the Chinese government has accelerated programs of resettlement, land confiscation, and fencing of pastoral areas inhabited primarily by Tibetans nomads, dramatically curtailing their livelihood. Thousands of Tibetan herders have been forced to slaughter their livestock, move into newly-built housing colonies in or near towns, and abandon their traditional way of life – all this despite a scientific consensus that indigenous stewardship and herd mobility is essential to the health of the rangelands and helps mitigate climate change. These policies are generally implemented without the consultation or consent of the people affected, who have had no chance to challenge them.
Related news and resources
UN human rights experts have called on the Chinese government to provide information about nine Tibetans imprisoned for their peaceful efforts to protect Tibet’s environment, which is crucial to the entire region.
In the latest World Heritage Watch Report, the International Campaign for Tibet calls for reviewing the status of a Tibetan nature reserve that received a controversial UNESCO World Heritage Site inscription five years ago.
This report collates and analyzes information on 50 cases of known Tibetan environmental defenders who have been reportedly persecuted since 2008.