0.Watch: Mother Nature & the CCP _part 2

 

1/26/2011

Tibet Glaciers are melting 4 times faster than in anywhere else in the world.

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In a Wikileak-exposed secret cable, the US ambassador to India said:

The Dalai Lama argued that the political agenda should be sidelined for five to ten years and the international community should shift its focus to climate change on the Tibetan plateau. Melting glaciers, deforestation, and increasingly polluted water from mining projects were problems that “cannot wait.”

What exactly is happening to the Tibetan Plateau to cause such immediate concern? Who is responsible? What can be done? And how might the Buddhist teachings of compassion speak to solving this urgent threat?

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The Tibetan Plateau is home to one of Eurasia’s most pristine grasslands. The combination of its immense size and its location near the tropics make it “one of the most ecologically diverse alpine communities on Earth.”   The World Wildlife Fund describes the Tibetan Plateau as :

“The highest and largest plateau on earth. It shelters a wide array of unique species, including the Tibetan antelope, Tibetan gazelle, wild yak, blue sheep, snow leopard, brown bear, Bengal tiger and black-necked crane. The Tibetan Plateau is also the source of almost all of Asia’s major rivers: the Yellow River, the Yangtze, the Mekong, the Salween, the Indus, and the Yarlung Tsangpo, which downstream becomes the Brahmaputra. Because of its high elevation (ave. elev. 4000m), the ecosystem here is extremely fragile. Once damaged, it is extremely difficult to reverse.”

Today that vast, fragile and unique ecosystem is over-heating at a destabilizing rate: 0.32 C every decade since 1961. Qin Dahe, the former head of the China Meteorological Administration, stated:

“Temperatures are rising four times faster than elsewhere in China, and the Tibetan glaciers are retreating at a higher speed than in any other part of the world.” “In the short term, this will cause lakes to expand and bring floods and mudflows.” “In the long run, the glaciers are vital lifelines for Asian rivers, including the Indus and the Ganges. Once they vanish, water supplies in those regions will be in peril.”

A three year study for the China Geological Survey found a billion cubic meters of water had disappeared from the glaciers feeding the Yangtze, China’s longest river. It also found that in some regions melting glaciers are flooding prime pasture lands posing a severe threat to local peoples and their economy. In other regions, disappearing smaller glaciers are creating drinking water crises.

A Science Daily report delved deeper:

“If I compare this land to what it used to be in the 1960s, it is difficult for me to recognize it,” recalls Qi Mei Duo Jie, a 71-year-old nomadic herder from Yanshiping in China’s central-western Qinghai Province. “Glaciers are melting, temperatures are rising and rainy seasons have become unpredictable.”

“In the last 20 years, larger portions of frozen ground have melted during summer,” says Professor Li Shijie from Nanjing’s Institute of Geography and Limnology. “With less water and more sand on the ground, desertification is just one step away.” “With warmer weather, evaporation is happening at a rate faster than the melting of the glaciers that supplies water to the river. Overall, this means a smaller water supply for local inhabitants.” “Warming temperatures will certainly continue, but weather events such as rain, snow and wind are becoming less predictable,” adds Professor Li.

Experts today agree on one trend: Glaciers, rivers, wetlands and lakes — all elements of the fragile high-altitude ecosystem — are being altered at a speed never seen before.

“Once destroyed, it will be extremely difficult to restore the high-altitude ecosystems,” adds WWF’s Dr. Li Lin.

The China Daily newspaper reported that increased desertification alone is causing $126 million per year in direct losses.

Who is causing it?

Bill McKibben tells a story in the opening of his excellent new book “Eaarth”:

“When I read these accounts, I flash back to a tiny village, remote even by Tibetan standards, where I visited a few years ago. A gangly young man guided me a mile up a riverbank for a view of the enormous glacier whose snout towered over the valley. A black rock the size of an apartment tower struck out from the middle of the wall of ice. My guide said it had appeared only the year before and now grew larger daily as its dark surface absorbed the sun’s heat. We were a hundred miles from a school, far from TV; no one in the village was literate. So out of curiosity I asked the young man: “Why is it melting?” I don’t know what I expected – some story about angry gods? He looked at me as if I was visiting from the planet Moron. “Global Warming,” he said. “Too many factories.” No confusion there.

As most readers can probably guess, Tibetans have not been the ones causing the climate warming and destabilization that is threatening the Tibetan people and ecosystems. Hao Peng, vice-chairman of the Tibet autonomous regional government makes it clear that: “Given its underdeveloped industry, Tibet’s own carbon emissions are very low and the deteriorating environment is mainly due to global climate change.”

“Very low”  is a huge understatement.

Our planet’s climate crisis is fuelled by the cumulative amount of fossil fuel CO2 that humanity has spewed into our air and oceans. While the impacts are shared by all nations, just 9 of the earth’s 195 nations are responsible for 70% of the climate-disrupting, fossil-fuel pollution that is creating the problem: the “Dirty-9.”

The “Dirty-9” are the ones forcing the climate to destabilize so abruptly — in Tibet and worldwide.

Canada, despite our small population, is one of these global “Dirty-9”. In fact, on a per person basis we are the fourth worst in the bunch, dumping 400 times more climate pollution than the average Tibetan.

What can be done to stop it? 

Dr Li Lin, Head of Conservation Strategies at WWF China bluntly says:

“It is only by reducing greenhouse gases across the country, as well as worldwide, that vulnerable ecosystems can be preserved and continue to function as a source of livelihood for people living here and downstream.”

Clearly the emerging collapse of Tibetan ecosystems, as well as ecosystems worldwide, will only be slowed and stopped when we in the “Dirty-9” nations accept our responsibility for causing the problem and then take effective steps to dramatically reduce our climate pollution levels. That means all of us here in Canada, in BC and in Vancouver.

http://www.vancouverobserver.com/blogs/climatesnapshot/2011/01/25/wikileak-dalai-lama-says-climate-change-tibet-more-urgent-political

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Beijing’s Desert Storm -By Ron Gluckman /Beijing, Fengning and Langtougou, China 

The desert is sweeping into China’s valleys, choking rivers and consuming precious farm land. Beijing has responded with massive tree-planting campaigns, but the Great Green Walls may not be able to buffer the sand, which could cover the capital in a few years  

FROM HIS ROOFTOP, Su Rongxi maintains an unsteady balance, perched between the past and a precarious future. One foot is planted firmly upon his tiled roof. The other sinks ankle-deep into a huge sand dune that threatens to engulf his house and Langtougou village, where his ancestors have lived for generations. For this dirt-poor town in Hebei province, the sands of time aren’t just a quaint notion, they are close at hand, burning the eyes and lungs. And for Langtougou, the sands seem to be ticking out.  

“We have no money to move and, besides, who would have us?” says Su. “There’s nothing to do but dig away the sand and wait to see what happens. Sometimes I dream of the sand falling around me faster than I can dig away. The sand chokes me. I worry that in real life, the sand will win.” 

Su and his neighbors are ethnic Manchurians who survive by cultivating subsistence crops and raising horses, goats and pigs. But this year violent sandstorms dumped entire dunes into the once-fertile Fengning county valley. Now most of the grass is gone and the Chaobai River stands dry. Besieged villagers say they have no idea where the sand came from. The scary bit? Su’s almost-buried house is nowhere near the heart of China’s rapidly encroaching deserts. It is just 160 km north of Beijing. Suddenly, rural Langtougou has become a barren outpost on the front line of a national battlefield. 

Premier Zhu Rongji raised the war cry in this very village in May, after the worst sandstorms in memory buffeted Beijing. Zhu stood on Su’s roof, pledging urgent measures to combat the encroaching sand. Then the premier left with his entourage, a huge government caravan, on 1,000-kilometer safari across China’s desert hotspots. The next month newspapers ran daily stories about desertification as armies of tree-planters were mobilized. The 5th Plenum of the Communist Party Central Committee, starting Oct. 9, has put the issue near the top of its agenda. Zhu has called it “an alarm for the entire nation.” 

Su, 53, missed that address — and the visiting premier. Su was in the grass-stripped hills tending his hungry goats. He doesn’t know much about the goings-on in Beijing anyway, having never traveled further than Fengning’s county seat, about 25 kilometers away. That trip used to take 40 minutes; now it can last days. Local workers cleared a path for the premier, yet just weeks later the road vanished — reclaimed by the relentless desert. 

Few people think of China as a desert nation, yet it is among the world’s largest. More than 27%, or 2.5 million square kilometers, of the country comprises useless sand (just 7% of Chinese land feeds about a quarter of the world’s population). A Ministry of Science and Technology task force says desertification costs China about $2-3 billion annually, while 800 km of railway and thousands of kilometers of roads are blocked by sedimentation. An estimated 110 million people suffer firsthand from the impacts of desertification and, by official reports, another 2,500 sq km turns to desert each year.

This is nothing new, of course. In the 4th century B.C. Chinese philosopher Mencius (Mengzi) wrote about desertification and its human causes, including tree-cutting and overgrazing. Experts argue over the reasons and consequences, but all agree that Chinese deserts are on the move. Sand from the distant Gobi threatens even Beijing, which some scientists say could be silted over within a few years. Dunes forming just 70 km from the capital may be drifting south at 20-25 km a year. Conservative estimates say 3 km a year. And despite massive spending on land reclamation and replanting, China is falling behind.  

In the northwest, where the biggest problems lie, desertification has escalated from 1,560 sq km annually in the 1970s to 2,100-2,400 sq km in the 1990s. According to many environmentalists, Beijing has been largely content to issue proclamations about student-supported tree-planting rather than tackle complicated land issues. 

 But that was before clouds of grit roared through the capital this spring. Sandstorms are hardly novel in Beijing, but the sheer ferocity of these tempests was. For days on end, wave after fearsome wave, sand closed the airport and casualties filled hospitals. Just as surprising was the public outrage. Even state-run media lambasted government officials. The frustration is easy to understand. According to Chinese records, dust storms came to the capital once every seven or eight years in the 1950s, and only every two or three years in the 1970s. But by the early 1990s, they were an annual problem.  

The government responded with huge “greening” campaigns and in the past 20 years alone, according to the People’s Daily, more than 30 billion trees have been planted. This year, however, the storms blew away any sense of security. 

Grasping the enormity of the problem is easy on the road north from Beijing to Langtougou. Nestling among fields of corn and sunflowers, villages bloom with flowers. After two hours’ driving, the views are still green. But over one steep mountain a surreal landscape astounds the eyes. Mountains rise on both sides of the valley ahead, but the hills are an ugly gray, denuded of vegetation. Even weirder, hillsides are dotted with white, much like highway stripes stretching into the horizon.  

The real shock hits on the descent into the valley. Those dots are actually white-painted stones, lining small pockets of soil. Inside each is a tiny tree. But the entire countryside has been stripped of grasses, topsoil and mature trees — meaning the saplings have little chance of survival. 

In Langtougou, residents are mumbling about new regulations as they dig huge pits in their yards to compost manure and waste to produce fuel. Each house must have one as part of a government decree against burning wood. Firewood collection (32.4%) is a key cause of desertification in northern China, according to a study by Chinese researcher Ning Datong and published by the University of Toronto. Ning attributed the other causes to excessive grazing (30%) and over-cultivation (23.3%). 

None of the 200 villagers is enthusiastic about their new composting brief, but what really upsets them are the other initiatives. Farming will cease, and they have also been told they will have to give up their animals. “This is how we live,” says Li Guoyun, 50. “We have 50 to 60 goats. We sell the wool and some for food. Without them, we’ll be ruined.” Li realizes, of course, that his goats gobble up the grass that used to cover the valley floor and hillsides, “but they are so much easier than pigs or cows.” 

Up and down the silted-in valley, the story is much the same. “I grow corn, rice, beans and tomatoes, to eat and to sell,” says Zhang Baoguan, 43, a father of two from the nearby hamlet of Caonianguo. “Now, I’ll have to stop. The government is promising some rice and money, but it’s not enough.” The moratorium on farming and grazing will apply throughout the valley — and nobody knows for how long.  

Villagers have already been drafted into China’s new green army of tree-planters. “We’ll plant trees every day for five years,” Zhang says dejectedly. “And if that doesn’t work, we’ll plant for five more. That’s what they tell us.”  

Neighbor Lin Renrui fears that no amount of tree-planting will bring the valley back to life, since the government has no plans for the sand. “We don’t like this plan at all — especially the part about the animals,” Lin says. “The government told us we will have to sell them all.” And the sand? “That’s the real problem,” he says, “not the goats. We ask about the sand. Nobody gives us an answer.” 

Environmentalists in the capital, most of whom speak on the condition of anonymity, say Beijing is missing the big picture. Land and water use, grasslands and forests, desert and climate changes are all interconnected. “The response has really been fragmented,” says one. Yet now that the government seems to be throwing its weight behind the issue, some critics call it overkill. “All of a sudden all you read about is desertification,” says one foreign observer. “You have to wonder if it’s not all propaganda, designed perhaps to win overseas funding for environmental campaigns.”  

But what about all that sand, sweeping down from the Gobi Desert and threatening to swallow Beijing within a few years. “Silly,” responds one official in the Ministry of Agriculture’s ecology section. “There are real problems, but everything with desertification is exaggerated.” He worries that the current focus misses the step-by-step approaches needed in a well-rounded environmental package. These include planting grasses first to stabilize and enrich soil, then trees. “But everything is going fast now and there is no masterplan.” 

If ever there is a place to grasp the climatic and environmental changes in China, it is not out on the vast plains, where herdsmen and farmers battle over dwindling water resources and tillable land. Instead, it is along an odd stretch of towering sand dunes just 70 km northwest of the capital. In olden times, this area was a favorite hunting ground of the imperial family, with forests and lakes for picnics. 

Now the woods are gone. Nearby sits the junction town of Huailai — except that no one calls it that anymore. Even on the road signs it is Shacheng — Sand City. 

The changes also are stark in small villages such as Chai Yuan (Firewood Garden), about 25 km further northwest. From there it is just a few more kilometers to Flying Camel Desert, so named because some Chinese entrepreneurs have surrounded the sand with a fence and charge admission to tourists wishing to experience the desert. Not that it is much of a desert experience. There are dune buggies and motor bikes for careering over the dunes, a mock Mongolian yurt, and camels and Mongolian horses. 

Still, there is more at the Flying Camel than exists over the dunes, where huge waves of sand crash to a halt above Longbaoshan. The village of 800 people was set up in 1989 to house mountain folk — moved from nearby hills as part of a resettlement program. The new brick buildings seem impressive, but the village lacks life. “Nobody has any work,” explains Zhang Wengui, 78. “We grow crops, some fruit and vegetables, that’s about all.” 

At least, that was about all. When farming was banned by Premier Zhu, officials swept in with their own version of Desert Storm. They introduced a desertification rehabilitation program, which, thus far, has consisted largely of fencing in the nearby sand and erecting signs proclaiming: “Controlling the Desert, State Focus Point.” The farming prohibition was mostly a waste of time as well. Crops wilted long ago. 

 “We have no water,” says Zhang. The two village wells, dug deeper each year, have run dry. The people will likely need to be moved again. In the meantime, no prizes for guessing what they have been doing: planting trees.  

“It’s part of a big campaign,” says one villager, who recalls how the local Bank of China staffers joined in one day. They had no choice. “The officials just went in and told everybody: ‘You have to plant trees today.'” 

It is a similar picture in thousands of villages across China, where population growth has meant rampant farming and wasteful irrigation. Yet if mass tree-plantings register far below the raging-success mark in Beijing’s piecemeal fight to stave off the sands, they still look pretty good next to the efforts at Flying Camel Desert.  

While Longbaoshan villagers go thirsty, workers at the desert park are busy hosing down a dune so tourists can take a toboggan ride. 

http://www.gluckman.com/ChinaDesert.html 

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7/26/2010 

Growing shortages of water threaten China’s development 

Published Mon, 07/26/2010 – 07:00 by Yale Environment 360 

With 20 percent of the world’s population but just 7 percent of its available freshwater, China faces serious water shortages as its economy booms and urbanization increases. The government is planning massive water diversion projects, but environmentalists say conservation — especially in the wasteful agricultural sector — is the key.  

On a recent visit to the Gobi desert, which stretches across China’s western Gansu province, I came upon an unusual sign. In the midst of a dry, sandy expanse stood a large billboard depicting a settlement the government intended to build nearby — white buildings surrounded by lush, green, landscaped lawns, and in the center a vast, gleaming blue reservoir. The illustration’s bright colors were quite unlike the actual surroundings, which consisted of dull sky that faded into a horizon of undulating, parched-brown hillsides.  

Still, the billboard’s promise was clear: Through feats of engineering and willpower, specifically the planned construction of a series of aqueducts to bring water from a tributary of China’s Yellow River, the government pledged to build new homes and remake nature. Let there be water.  
  

My companion, the young Chinese environmentalist Zhao Zhong, founder of the nonprofit group, Green Camel Bell, was dubious. He pointed out that not only has the water level of the Yellow River been declining in recent years, in some months no longer reaching the Pacific Ocean, but that the river is now an estimated 10 percent sewage by volume. Watering the desert seemed to him, quite literally, a pipe dream.  

Yet the sign conjuring an oasis in the desert does point to a very real dilemma: In order to sustain its rapid development, China needs a lot of water. It can only build as many cities as it can supply with clean water. And the country’s water supply is precariously limited: The Middle Kingdom is home to 20 percent of world’s population, but just 7 percent of its available freshwater resources. Rapid urbanization is quickly increasing demand for fresh water, while climate change threatens to further reduce availability.  

Wang Rusong, an expert in urban ecosystems at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and an environmental advisor to Beijing’s mayor, told me when I visited his offices in May that China’s most worrisome environmental challenge is not what it has too much of — pollution, sewage, carbon emissions, etc. — but what it doesn’t have enough of: “The limiting factor in Beijing’s development is water,” he said. And Beijing is hardly alone.  

Over the next 20 years, 350 million people in China — more than the population of the United States — are expected to move from the countryside to the cities, requiring an immense infrastructure build-out. (Imagine constructing all America’s cities in one generation.) One measure

World Bank estimates show China has only one-fourth the global average amount of water per capita.  

 

of the nation’s rapid growth and urbanization is its production of cement — China is by far the world’s largest user of cement, producing seven times more cement than the second-largest user, India. For other natural resources, Beijing is scouring the earth: importing vast quantities of timber from Southeast Asia and Latin America; financing oil rigs in Nigeria, Chad, and Sudan; investing in copper mines in Afghanistan. Yet securing enough fresh water may be the gravest challenge of all, as it is the one resource that cannot be imported.  

Instead, China must learn to make due with the water it has. World Bank estimates show that China possesses only one-fourth the global average amount of water per capita. As more and more of its people move to cities, household demands will grow. Professor Wang estimates that Beijing’s water use has grown 150 percent in just the last decade. China’s power sector is extremely water-intensive, and steeply rising energy use is also driving water demand.  

A recent study, “Charting Our Water Future,” by the global consultancy, McKinsey and Co., and the Water Resources Group, looks at increasing water demand across sectors (residential, agricultural, industrial) and forecasts that by 2030 China could face a gaping water shortage of 201 billion cubic meters. To make matters worse, much of the available water is located in southern China, while the majority of the population is in the north.  

Across China today, one encounters frequent scenes of people struggling to deal with water scarcity. In Gansu province, not far from where the billboard boasts of a modern oasis, local farmers eke out an existence growing vegetables in low greenhouses that they cover with straw mats to retain every last drop of moisture. “There is nothing to spare,” one 40-something farmer told me. Nearby, the wells supplying rural schools have had to be dug deeper in recent years, as groundwater levels sink. In many Gansu villages, canals that run behind homes are dry in the winter months.  
In southwest China, a severe drought this spring affected as many as 18 million people, drying fields and limiting drinking water to residents in large cities. Such water-scarce regions in China have little buffer against even naturally occurring dips in precipitation — a problem that could be exacerbated as the world warms. As Ma Jun, author of the seminal book, China’s Water Crisis, explained: “In some regions, the environmental capacity is very low, and the groundwater is now quite depleted. We have either to change our livelihoods, or make space for natural restoration to happen. We have to recognize that in certain parts of our earth, existence is fragile.” 

In northern China and adjacent Mongolia, the sands of the Gobi desert are expanding — a process known as “desertification” — largely due to land-use changes, soil erosion, and perhaps climate shifts. Each spring, seasonal sandstorms strike Beijing; on the worst days, the skies are yellow, and residents are advised to remain inside. In the 1950s, sandstorms hit Beijing only every seven or so years; now they strike each spring.  

In western China, the melting glaciers on the Tibetan-Qinghai Plateau have already begun to shrivel streams in Tibet, Qinghai, and Gansu. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimates that the glaciers, the world’s largest outside the poles, are shrinking by about 7 percent each year. Tenzin Dorje, a Tibetan shepherd living in the rugged Qilian mountains, where streams are fed by glaciers, says that each year he must trudge further to find streams where his sheep can drink.  

In west China, the Chinese government projects that 150 million people must move from their homes to secure reliable access to water. As Wen Bo,

‘We can’t think only about economic development, we have to think about ecological capacity,’ says Wen Bo.  

 

an environmentalist in Beijing, points out: “This is a clear indication that we can’t think only about economic development. We have to think about ecological capacity.” He adds that part of the problem is man-made. “Problematic irrigation policies and dam construction [on the nearby Yangtze River] contributed to the recent drought,” he says. “China is not good at water resources management.”  

Indeed, Beijing’s typical mindset is to dig its way out of a hole and fight challenges with massive engineering projects. One example is the plan to move vast quantities of water from the southern Yangtze River to the northern Yellow River through a series of grand aqueducts carved through mountainsides and etched across deserts; the eastern leg of the project has already been built, but subsequent stretches appear, many argue, to be geologically and financially unsound. Yang Yong, an independent Chinese geologist who has studied some of the engineering pitfalls of the current proposals, estimates that there may be better ways to approach the dilemma: “You can get more water through better conservation measures than actually building the South-to-North Water project,” he said.  

Indeed, China is starting to emphasize conservation. The city government of Beijing last December announced price hikes of 8 percent on residential water use, one of a series of such increases across the country recently designed to discourage household water waste. As Julian Wong, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC, observes: “Natural resource inputs have long been underpriced in China. Conservation measures are going to be a priority in the coming years.”  

Currently the greatest culprit of water waste in China is the agricultural sector, which accounts for more than two-thirds of all water use. Yet up to 45 percent of that water disappears before it reaches farmers — evaporating off the surface of open canals, seeping into the dirt walls of poorly constructed rural diversions, or being literally skimmed off the top by any number of unaccounted-for water users, according to research by Christine Boyle, a recent Fulbright fellow at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy. She points out that when it comes to water management in China, “there are a lot of moving parts, but not a lot of oversight.”  

The reasons for such water waste include poor rural infrastructure (every village or district is responsible for maintaining its irrigation infrastructure, and some have little money for repairs); lack of coordination between governing bodies; and lack of measurements or accountability to tell where, precisely, water is being lost.  

Recognizing the problem is the first step to fixing it. As Professor Wang told me in Beijing, “First we have to change people’s minds – then our systems.” 

  

Christina Larson A billboard in rural Gansu province, depicting the water-rich settlement the government intends to build nearby. 

http://www.energybulletin.net/print/53566

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5/31/2007

China’s water supply could be cut off as Tibet’s glaciers melt

 

By Clifford Coonan in Jiuzhaigou National Park

The clear water of the Min river in the Jiuzhaigou National Park is a candidate for the cleanest in China. It is filtered by 108 lakes as it makes its way down from the glaciers of this vast nature reserve before feeding into the Yangtze river.

 Back up through the mists, along a spectacular cliff-lined valley, there is Long Lake, a blue glacial expanse of water, while higher up in this mountainous park you can find corrie glaciers. Waterfalls line the route, azure pools brim over with fresh water.

Yet this beautiful park, completely defined by water, is threatened by climate change. Normally a winter wonderland, there was no snow at all last year. The glaciers will get warmer and melt, the rivers will have less water, although rainfall makes up much of the water flowing through the park.

With one eye on the attempt to forge a climate change pact at the forthcoming G8 meeting in Berlin, the environmental group Greenpeace has warned that the melting of Tibet’s mountains could choke off water sources vital for large parts of China.

Sichuan province in south-western China relies on water from the Tibetan peninsula. At Kanding, several hundred kilometres away from Jiuzhaigou, there are valley glaciers which are seriously imperilled by rising temperatures. All across the Qinghai-Tibet highland that spans much of western China, global warming is speeding the retreat of glaciers, stoking evaporation of glacial and snow run-off, and leaving dwindling rivers that are dangerously clogged with silt, says Greenpeace in a report on climate change in the region.

Chinese government research shows that global warming is melting the plateau at 7 per cent annually. These glaciers account for 47 per cent of the total coverage in China. Water from the mountain region feeds the Yellow, Yangtze and other rivers that feed hundreds of millions of people across China and South Asia, said Li Yan of Greenpeace’s Beijing office.

“Climate change is the major factor leading to the overall ecological degradation in this region while localised human activities, such as industry and agriculture, have aggravated the situation,” the Greenpeace report says.

The Qinghai-Tibet plateau covers 2.5 million square kilometres – about a quarter of China’s land surface – at an average altitude of 4,000m above sea level. “The river itself is under threat from this deterioration in its birthplace,” the report says of the Yellow river. The environmental group cited one forecast that 80 per cent of the glacial area in Tibet and surrounding parts could disappear by 2035. It is still unclear exactly how quickly the glaciers will melt.

Conservationists working in the region say the issue is climate change, which can mean both warming and cooling, although they say the impact of both could be immense on rain and snowfall.

Multiplying pools of water accumulating from melted glaciers are building up and then bursting, endangering people living downstream, Ms Li said.

Greenpeace researchers who surveyed the slopes of Mt Everest this year and last to document glacier retreat said that local herders were not seeing more abundant water from the melting. Instead increased evaporation and accumulation in unstable glacier lakes were making water flows less predictable and more dangerous, Ms Li said.

In a video shown by the Greenpeace team, a Tibetan monk who has lived on the lower slopes of Everest for many years, said: “Now the winter is as hot as summer. The weather change is obvious.”

 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/chinas-water-supply-could-be-cut-off-as-tibets-glaciers-melt-451099.html

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