Melting Glaciers in Tibet Worry Buddhist Monk

17th Karmapa (Photo by Prince Roy available on Flickr)

This week, as world leaders gather in Paris for the United Nations’ 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to discuss climate change, EdenKeeper plans to bring you stories from communities vulnerable to the devastating effects of climate change. The first story comes from Tibet, where a Buddhist monk is drawing attention to the rapid rate of warming at the Tibetan plateau and the impacts melting glaciers will have on water availability in Asia.

Asia’s Melting Water Tower

Tibet is sometimes referred to as the “Third Pole” because it is the third largest concentration of ice after the south and north poles. And, like the poles, the rate of warming in Tibet is occurring faster than the global average. The plateau has seen an increase in temperature of approximately 0.4-degree Celsius every 10 years. In the past 50 years, the temperature has increased by 1.3-degrees Celsius.

Warmer temperatures are causing Tibet’s glaciers to melt. They have retreated nearly 18% in the last 65 years and even the thick ice around the base camp of Everest has disappeared exposing the stones, said the director of Tibet’s mountaineering administration center. Climate researchers from the Central Tibetan Administration say that over two-thirds of Tibet’s 46,000 glaciers could disappear by 2050.

Melting glaciers will have serious impacts on countries like China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam and over 150 million people who rely on water from Tibet’s icy peaks. “They are sources of life for China’s western arid regions,” said Kang Shichang of the institute of Tibetan Plateau research, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

A Plea for Protection

Tibetan religious head and 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje spent his early years in eastern Tibet before fleeing to Dharamsala, India. On his 30th birthday last June, he reflected on the beauty of his homeland and warned of the dangers it’s facing.

“Each year on my birthday, I recall not only my parents, but also the sparkling beauty of the pristine natural environment in which I was born and raised,” said the Buddhist monk in a message in June. “This intensifies my sense of urgency for the protection of the fragile ecosystems of the Tibetan plateau as well as the Himalayas. As I have said, the area’s glaciers make it the source of the most of Asia’s major rivers, and the Third Pole of the globe itself. For this reason, the Tibetan plateau plays an important role.”

Later in an interview about COP21, he said: “If there is one thing we now know about climate change it’s that its impacts do not discriminate on the basis of a nation’s wealth or power.”

Buddhist Push for Climate Action

The Karmapa joins other Buddhist leaders, including the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, who are urging global leaders to make a firm climate commitment during the COP21 talks. Signatories to the Buddhist Climate Change Statement to World Leaders warn, “We are at a crucial crossroads where our survival and that of other species is at stake as a result of our actions.”

Although this story focuses on the community of Tibet, climate change’s impacts to the region will have serious impacts on the survival of millions of people in Asia. Global leaders at COP21 have a responsibility to protect these people and the many others who face water shortages, food shortages, floods, heat waves, and devastating storms as a result of a changing climate.

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .