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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

COP21: Climate action in Tibet must be a core concern for the Government of Canada

November 23, 2015



Quote:These are not political matters or religious matters. These are, ultimately, related to the survival of humanity.”  His Holiness Dalai Lama, Honorary Citizen of Canada, in his video message to world leaders attending the COP21:

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Montreal, November 23, 2015 – The Canada Tibet Committee has appealed to Environment and Climate Change Minister, Catherine McKenna, urging Canada to include climate action in Tibet as a core concern during the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21).

Tibet, often referred to as the “roof of the world” or the earth’s “third pole”, is the world’s largest and highest plateau encompassing the source of Asia’s six largest rivers flowing into the world’s ten most densely populated countries with a third of its population.  Tibet is home to the third largest store of ice and largest source of accessible fresh water on the planet, attributes that represent a common cause between the Tibetan and Canadian people.

In its November 18 letter, the CTC also requested that Minister McKenna urge the Government of China to re-assess its economic development policies in relation to their impact on climate change in Tibet and on the downstream countries of Asia.

“While the Government of China is not solely responsible for climate change in Tibet, it is responsible for taking the steps needed to mitigate its impacts, said Carole Samdup, Executive Director of the Canada Tibet Committee. “This includes avoiding policies that exacerbate the problem such as unregulated mining, forced removal of nomadic communities from their grasslands, and excessive damming of rivers.”

The Canada Tibet Committee also emphasized the importance of human rights in relation to climate action, and in particular limitations placed by the Government of China on freedom of expression and access to information in Tibet, which effectively denies affected communities their right to advocate on their own behalf.

The Canada Tibet Committee recommended that the Government of Canada engage with representatives of the Central Tibetan Administration who will be represented at the Paris Conference.


Hashtags:  #RoofOfTheWorld, #Tibet3rdPole

Tibet is referred to as the “roof of the world”, the world’s “water tower”, or the earth’s “third pole”. These descriptors are more than campaign slogans – they refer to the strategic importance Tibet plays within the global effort to confront climate change. The references are derived from Tibet’s unique topography as the world’s largest and highest plateau encompassing the source of Asia’s six largest rivers flowing into the world’s ten most densely populated countries with a third of its population.  Tibet is home to the third largest store of ice and largest source of accessible fresh water on the planet, attributes that represent a common cause between the Tibetan and Canadian people.

Unfortunately, Tibet’s fragile ecosystem is under threat from climate change and its impacts including desertification, retreating glaciers and deteriorating permafrost. According to researchers at the Central Tibetan Administration, 82 percent of the ice in Tibet has retreated in the past 50 years and there has been no net accumulation of ice since 1950’s. The researchers warn that more than two-thirds of Tibet’s glaciers could disappear by 2050.  The Tibetan plateau has seen an increase in temperature of approximately 0.3 degrees Celsius every 10 years for the past fifty years while the temperature has increased by 1.3 degrees Celsius, three times the global average. [1]

Bad policies and insufficient oversight have exacerbated the impact of climate change in Tibet. At least 80 percent of Tibet’s forests – which once covered 25.2 million hectares – have been destroyed in recent decades.  Unregulated mining has polluted once pristine waterways. The forced removal of nomadic communities from their land has disrupted the delicate balance between human stewardship of the grasslands and the demands of economic development.  The rapid growth of tourism, which increased 30% in the last year alone [2], threatens the viability of uniquely significant conservation areas. 

Climate change in Tibet has downstream impacts across Asia.  An example is dam-building and water diversion, particularly on the Brahmaputra River, that has affected the pattern of monsoon rains on which much of the region depends. Yet, the Government of China, in its Intended Nationally-Determined Contribution (INDC) prepared specifically for the COP21, has announced that it will “proactively promote the development of hydro power, on the premise of ecological and environmental protection and inhabitant resettlement”.  The INDC makes no promise of impact assessment with respect to climate change. Nor does it commit to stakeholder consultation, or even minimal disclosure of outcomes. [3]

Despite commitments made within China’s new framework environmental protection legislation adopted in January 2015, authorities have not engaged Tibetan stakeholders in discussions about efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The opaque nature of  information disclosure in China conflicts with principles highlighted in the new law that require environmental regulators at all levels of government to “disclose environmental information pursuant to the law, improve public participation procedures, and facilitate citizens, legal persons and other organizations to participate in, and supervise, environmental protection work” (Art. 53). [4]

China’s failure to adopt best practice principles as part of its climate change mitigation strategy is more than a weakness of environmental policy - it represents a disregard for the human rights obligations it accepted as State Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The UN’s Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, Prof. John H. Knox, describes State action on climate as a necessary component of efforts to protect and fulfil the human right to food, to water, to health, to life, to development, and to self-determination. [5]

Knox also emphasizes the particular relevance of the human right to freedom of expression in the context of environmental protection and climate change: “There can be no doubt that [state] obligations apply to those exercising their rights in connection with environmental concerns.”[6] In Tibet, however, freedom of expression is routinely denied and environmental activists are commonly detained and subjected to lengthy prison sentences for expressing their points of view on the environmental policies that influence climate change on the plateau. [7]

The Tibetan Government in Exile (Central Tibetan Administration) will participate in the COP21 conference and has launched an associated climate action campaign at  Tibetan NGOs will be represented in Paris under the banner of “Tibet Third Pole”,  


The Canada Tibet Committee is a national, not-for-profit organization created in 1987.  As a non-partisan organization, our primary mandate is the promotion of human rights and democratic freedoms in Tibet.  We monitor and report on the situation inside Tibet, meet with Members of Parliament, and publish reports.  As a Montreal-based organization, we function via a network of representatives in cities across the country.



[1] The Central Tibetan Administration is an elected, democratic governance structure based in Dharamsala, India.  Its climate action resource page is found at: 

[2] Tibet holds second tourism, culture expo, Xinhua News Agency, September 2015:

[3] China INDC:'s%20INDC%20-%20on%2030%20June%202015.pdf

[4] Environmental Protection Law of the People's Republic of China, 24 April 2014

As an example, in April 2015 the Government of Canada National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines responded to a complaint by the Canada Tibet Committee that China Gold International Resources, a wholly-owned subsidiary of state-owned China Gold, had failed to disclose environmental assessments for the Gyama mine project. The Government of Canada recommended that  the Company “conduct due diligence through a review of its environmental, human rights, labour, and health and safety activities through audits of past and current activities, and assessments of the potential impacts of anticipated activities on the environment, human rights, labour, and health and safety” and that it “engage meaningfully with stakeholders, including its workers and local communities, throughout these reporting and auditing processes , and share the results with stakeholders, including recommendations.”

[5] Report to the UN Human Rights Council of the Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, John H. Knox, December 2013 (A/HRC/25/53).  Other UN experts have emphasized the link between climate change and human rights including the Human Rights Council ((resolution 18/22), the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water ((A/68/264, para. 73), the Committee on Economic and Social Rights (General Comment No. 15 (2002), para. 56).

[6] Climate Change and Human Rights Principles, John H. Knox, Wake Forest University Legal Studies Paper #2523599, July 2014 at  See also, Statement by John H. Knox, Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment, November 2014.

 [7] For example see UN Urged to Ensure Freedom of Expression and Opinion in Tibet, International Campaign for Tibet, June 2015:




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