Climate change in Tibetan Plateau impacts livelihoods: Report

Climate Change.
Representational image: IANS

New Delhi: In the run up to the Glasgow climate talks (COP26) and the ongoing UN biodiversity summit, a new report on Tuesday blamed China, the world's biggest maker and user of coal, cement and steel, for climate change across the Tibetan Plateau, the world's 'third pole'.

It says climate change greatly impacts livelihoods, even though customary modes of production generate very little of the emissions that cause climate change.

However, China makes great use of Tibet to mitigate its climate impact by declaring huge watersheds to be national parks, thus offsetting ongoing and still rising emissions, and repairing reputational damage.

The report, by Tibetan Centre of Human Rights and Democracy, provides evidence that using the Tibetan Plateau to offset China's carbon footprints has not translated into eco-compensation for rural Tibetan landholders for their provisioning of ecosystem services.

China distorts the concept of payment for ecosystem services by dislocating Tibetan nomadic communities, and forcibly removing them off their lands, says the report by the NGO committed to advancing human rights and democracy.

China's eco-compensation policy raises questions of human rights and sustainable development, and of nature's contribution to humanity, with global impacts and consequences.

The Tibetan Plateau is close to two per cent of the planet's land surface, the size of Western Europe, and with as much global importance as other comparable geographies, perhaps more since the elevation of the Plateau has a global impact on jetstream, monsoon dynamics, and the water cycle of the entire northern hemisphere.

Tibetan nature's contribution to humanity is exceptionally big.

What China means by eco-compensation is at best vague, making little mention of local beneficiaries recompensed to stay on their lands and continue with practices conducive to biodiversity protection and delivery of ecosystem services, claims the report.

At worst, and commonly practiced, most transfer payments badged as eco-compensation never reach local communities, or are paid for nomads to relocate away from their lands, for their subsistence.

Biodiversity globally is highly endangered. The world expects effective action from the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) before it is too late. Yet China's new system of national parks, mostly in Tibet, is not in the Tibetan areas of greatest biodiversity. The first part of the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UN Convention on Biodiversity that convened online on Monday in Kunming in China should prioritise defining its Target 9 for 2020 through 2030, on the benefits for people through sustainable management.

Indigenous and traditional local communities with long records as sustainable land managers must be the primary beneficiaries, and legally defined recipients of eco-compensation, as CBD Article 8(j) has long insisted, says the report.

This is especially applicable to states which until very recently had little presence in remote landscapes such as the pasturelands of the Tibetan Plateau, and little interest in traditional knowledge, traditional management practices, and sacred land protection rituals.

In September this year, at a preliminary CBD session, delegates expressed strong support for all local communities living inside the protected areas to have guaranteed free, prior, and informed consent to any programs for large-scale protection of landscapes under Target 3. This should now be adopted as a binding CBD decision.

At the 26th UN climate change conference (COP26) in Glasgow to be held from October 31 to November 12, the world's core concern will be the great gap between China's rhetoric and its actual plans to build many more coal-fired power stations.

China's ongoing, unrelenting reliance on coal-fired electricity is the main driver of China's carbon trading scheme, which attempts to offset criticism by proclaiming emissions are offset by payments for ecosystem services that capture carbon in Tibet.

The displacement of Tibetans is thus of concern to the world, which needs to know that what is labelled eco-compensation actually reduces emissions and rewards those who provide ecosystem services, says the report.

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