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Water chinaly


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China’s growth momentum is now entrenched in its political economy, but will be destabilized by the resulting water shortages and pollution. Historically, China’s culture and institutions were shaped by the high social returns to large-scale water management, but today its market-driven local governments have little capacity or motivation to address the looming water crisis. Instead, the likely response is the interception of neighbouring countries’ water flows, whose sources are conveniently concentrated in Tibet.

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Water chinaly

  1. 1. CHINA'S GROWTH DRIES UP Leslie Young
  2. 2. China’s growth momentum is now entrenched in its political economy, but will be destabilized by the resulting water shortages and pollution. Historically, China’s culture and institutions were shaped by the high social returns to large-scale water management, but today its market-driven local governments have little capacity or motivation to address the looming water crisis. Instead, the likely response is the interception of neighbouring countries’ water flows, whose sources are conveniently concentrated in Tibet. Summary
  3. 3. Asia’s Population Distribution
  4. 4. The West’s foundation myths — Hebrew and Greek— begin with the divine creation of the world out of darkness and chaos. China’s foundation myth begins with the struggles of rulers to manage water. These myths connect directly with recorded history.
  5. 5. The Yellow Emperor and Yu the Great • The Yellow Emperor, mythic progenitor of the Chinese people, struggled with the mighty rivers that flooded the country each year. He appointed Yu to deal with the problem. • Yu studied the shape of the land in each area, observed the course of the rivers and planned their most natural route to the sea. To guide the rivers, Yu dug canals, carved tunnels, leveled hilltops, created dams, and formed lakes. • Wherever he traveled, farmers hailed him as the Great Yu. Their widespread affection caused the emperor to choose Yu as the next emperor. • The legend of Yu the Great is based on a king of the same name who ruled from 2205 to 2197 B.C. Yu founded the first Chinese dynasty, the Xia, for which archaeological evidence is ample.
  6. 6. Hydraulic Despotism and Environmental Reconstruction • Karl Wittfogel argued that hydrological engineering not only made Chinese civilization possible, but left an indelible imprint: 'hydrological despotism.' So great was China’s need to control water for agriculture, and so extensive was the requisite mobilization of resources, that an authoritarian, bureaucratic state was required by China’s geography. • Mark Elvin argued that early China’s inter-state competition drove a dialectic of urban and agricultural settlement that ate up East Asia’s temperate forests and the species that they supported. • The archaic states of China were conscious of their birth in environmental reconstruction. Several panegyrics of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties link the destruction of forests to the consolidation of power, the establishment of cities, and
  7. 7. The key example of this feedback loop is deforestation. The clearance of forests along the middle reaches of the Yellow River in the Qin Dynasty led to the erosion of loess soils from cultivated fields which yellowed the 'Yellow River’.
  8. 8. The soil washed down the rivers settled as farmland downriver via frequent flooding, which necessitated dikes — that continually failed as the riverbed rose from deposits of silt. This battle was exacerbated by further deforestation all along the river's course to create more farmland and required ever-greater efforts to control its power.
  9. 9. Elvin argues that the efforts to control the Yellow River, especially under the 'river tamer' Pan Jixun in the 1570s, and the centuries-long battle against the East China sea in the Bay of Hangzhou, represent respectively the greatest single human impact and program for action upon the environment in pre-modern times anywhere in the world.
  10. 10. Yellow River
  11. 11. 11 Ganges: Alluvium 150 feet deep
  12. 12. 12 Geography and Political Norms India China Ganges Valley is world’s largest, deepest alluvium bed Ganges has many tributaries, hence alternative sources of water. River control important but not critical Yellow River has no tributaries below Wei Valley. Break in dikes causes massive disruption of irrigation systems Dike maintenance metered corruption Can support dense population with light management, plus religion that ensures social peace by justifying ethnic ranking (caste) Yellow River valley requires intensive management and organization to support dense population Change of elite by external conquest. New top elite required no justification Change of rule by internal revolt New dynasty had to justify rule Extractive elite justified by religion Responsible authoritarians justifying rule by performance = ―Mandate of Heaven‖
  13. 13. World Distribution of Arable Land
  14. 14. China’s Water Resources • Surface and near-surface water per capita in China today is roughly ¼ the global average, and is very unevenly distributed. • The North and Northwest, with about 380 million people (almost 30% of the population) and over half the country’s arable land, have about 7% of its surface water, so that per capita water resources are roughly 20-25% of the average for China as a whole, or 5-6% of the global average; a more narrowly defined North China plain may have only 10-15% of the per capita supply for the country as a whole, or less than 4% of the global average.
  15. 15. • Northern waters carry heavier sediment loads than southern ones – most readings on Southern rivers fall within EU maxima for drinking water, while some readings on the middle and lower Yellow River, and the Wei and Yongding Rivers are 25 -50% above that; water shortages also imply that Northern rivers carry far more industrial pollutants per cubic meter, even though the South has far more industry.8 • Northern China has violent seasonal fluctuations in water supply; both rainfall and river levels change much more over the course of the year than in either Europe or the Americas. North China’s year-to-year rainfall fluctuations are also high (though less than those in North and Northwest India). • While the most famous of China’s roughly 90,000 large (over 15 meters high) and medium-sized dams are associated with hydro-power -- many serve mostly to store water during the peak flow of rivers for use at other times.
  16. 16. Water in China’s Modernization • The People’s Republic made enormous efforts to address these problems – and achieved impressive short-term successes that are now extremely vulnerable. Irrigated acreage has more than tripled since 1950 (mostly during the Mao era), with most gains in the North and Northwest. • This was key to turning the “land of famine” of the 1850-1950 era into a grain surplus area, and contributed to improving per capita food supplies for a national population that has more than doubled since 1949.
  17. 17. • Plentiful water allowed much of northern China to grow two crops a year for the first time in history, often by adding winter wheat, which needs a lot of water. • Plentiful, reliable supplies of water were needed for new seed varieties and chemical fertilizer, which can otherwise burn the soil. • Irrigation greatly reduced the problem of rain coming at the wrong time of year, or not coming at all some years. • Much of that turnaround, however, relied on very widespread use of deep wells, using gasoline or electrical power to bring up underground water from unprecedented depths.
  18. 18. • Large-scale exploitation of North China groundwater began in the 1960s, peaked in the 1970s at roughly 10 times the annual extraction rates that prevailed during 1949 -1961, and has remained level since about 1980 at roughly 4 times the 1949-1961 level. • This rate of water withdrawal is unsustainable. The North China water table has been dropping by about 4-6 feet per year for some time, and by over 10 feet per year in many places; if this rate of extraction were maintained, the aquifers beneath the plain will be gone in 30-40 years.
  19. 19. Water Demands From Industry • China is struggling with the entwined challenges of generating enough power to drive its economy and protecting its water supplies. • China builds an average of three new power stations a week; by 2030 it plans to add more power capacity than exists in the US, the UK and Australia today. This will require huge amounts of water for cooling and driving steam turbine generators. The country’s water resources are already stretched; climate change is making conditions even tougher. • Forty percent of China’s agricultural output is produced in water-scarce regions. Five provinces – Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong, Henan and Jiangsu – and three municipalities — Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin — are most t risk of water shortages. The industrial sector is doubly exposed because it consumes well over 80% of all electricity.
  20. 20. Electricity and/or Water? In 2010, thermal power represented 74% of China’s installed capacity and hydropower 22%. So almost all power generation relies on water. The nation’s industrialisation, urbanisation and rising affluence will increase demand for electric power, further depleting the water available. China’s annual renewable-water resource per capita averaged slightly over 2,000 cubic metres in 2003-2010, just above the water stress level of 1,700 cubic metres. This water is unevenly distributed. Eleven provinces are already water scarce (they have less than 1,000 cubic metres per capita per year). Climate change, caused mostly by carbon-dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, exacerbates existing water stresses. The government has responded by setting tough new water quotas as well as pollution reduction targets.
  21. 21. Coal and hydro expansion • China’s power sector uses about 10% of its water, low compared to the UK (34%) and the US (49%). • China plans to add 1,212 gigawatts of water-reliant power capacity by 2030, equivalent to almost six times India’s current installed generation capacity. • In 2011-2020, China plans to add 453 gigawatts of coal-fired power capacity: double Russia’s entire 2009 power generation capacity. • China’s coal-fired power capacity expansion will increase coal mining, which consumes water for
  22. 22. • 47% of coal reserves are in water-scarce regions. Water scarcity could also lead to a greater reliance on coal imports; for example, 30% of China’s coal reserves are in Shanxi, a province suffering from extreme water scarcity. • Changes in water availability also threaten hydropower. The effects of water shortages can be felt more quickly in the event of drought. Some hydropower stations have operated at below capacity in recent summers due to drought in southern China. • The government plans to expand hydropower from 216 gigawatts in 2010 to 568 gigawatts by 2030. • The expansion of China’s installed thermal and hydro capacity will further stress water resources. Even with a change in fuel mix, 87% of power capacity will still require water. • China’s damming of rivers is antagonizing countries downstream.
  23. 23. Agriculture • Some 40% of agricultural output is produced in water- scarce regions, mainly in the North. Climate change will also affect agricultural productivity through increased temperatures and altered water availability.
 • The central government set national water quotas in 2011. In response, provincial administrations have set and released 2015 water caps. Since the total of the 31 provincial caps actually exceeds the national total for 2015, some inter-provincial planning or collaboration will have to take place. This highlights the problem of enforcement in China.
  24. 24. • Some of the most water-scarce provinces have been given the toughest water pollution-reduction targets, making it extra hard to balance growth with water quantity and quality. • Since 45% of China’s GDP originates in water-scarce provinces, provincial water caps could force a change in the economic mix. Facilities may have to relocate, and water quotas and pollution-reduction targets could be enforced more strictly than in the past. • In addition to the five provinces and three municipalities that are most at risk of water shortages, three borderline stressed provinces – Guangdong, Zhejiang and Inner Mongolia – are also vulnerable as they fluctuate in and out of water stress. • China’s planned economy is taking water and other resource stresses into account, but, the growth profiles of power and water in certain provinces reveal a planning mismatch.
  25. 25. The Three Gorges Dam Costing almost $30 billion, this is the largest power plant ever built. It has been in planning for a century.
  26. 26. • The dam body was completed in 2006 and the originally planned components of the project were finished in 2008. Six additional generators were installed underground in 2011 - taking its total electric generating capacity to over 22 gigawatts. • The project management team and the Chinese state regard the project as a historic engineering, social and economic success: a breakthrough in the design of large turbines and a significant move toward the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It will remove some 100 million tonnes of CO2 and 2 million tonnes of SO2 that would otherwise have been generated by coal-fired power stations. • However, the dam flooded archaeological and cultural sites, displaced 1.4 million people, and is causing significant ecological changes, including an increased risk of landslides.
  27. 27. South-North Water Diversion This is the largest construction project in history. It will cost about US$65 billion and carry almost 45 billion cubic meters of water per year – about the annual flow of the Yellow River.
  28. 28. 1. An Eastern route would take water from the Lower Yangzi in Jiangsu province up to Tianjin (roughly the route of the Ming-Qing Grand Canal) and, via a branch line, to the Shandong peninsula. This is the simplest part of the project. Parts began operation in 2008 and the entire route is now functioning. 2. A Central route runs from near the Three Gorges Dam in Sichuan to Beijing. Work on this route was recently suspended in response to environmental problems and to problems with the relocation of people in the path of the project. The official projection is that water will be reaching Beijing through this route by 2014. 3. A Western route will take water from the Yarlong- Tsangpo, Dadu, Tongtian and Jinsha Rivers (all of which flow into the Yangzi) across mountains and the Tibet-Qinghai plateau, directing it into the Yellow River, which would then carry it across North China. This is the most complex part of the project; it would not be completed until 2050.
  29. 29. • Recent droughts show that Central China has little excess water that could be transferred to the thirsty North. In the spring of 2011, water levels in the Han river and Danjiangkou reservoir fell so low that people did not have sufficient water for drinking and sowing their crops – let alone for sending to Beijing. • Pollution from factories along the Eastern Route could render the water unfit to drink. Meanwhile, the diversion of water from the Yangtze River Basin to the north is likely to exacerbate pollution problems on the Yangtze – problems that have worsened since the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.
  30. 30. Water Management I • Water management is divided across the ministries for water, agriculture, environmental protection, land and resources. Power authorities focus on developing hydropower, while water authorities focus on managing the river basins, etc. China urgently needs: – Unified consideration of water for cities and the economy, for the ecology, for agriculture – A management system for river basins that is both unified and responsive to climate change.
  31. 31. • Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen now have unitary water bureaus, but management systems in other cities are still fragmented. • China has developed good management of the Yellow River basin, where 80% to 90% of water can be controlled. – For a time, water control was the only important thing for the basin, and water use was not properly managed, leading to 10 years of intermittent flow and water shortages at key industrial and economic locations downstream. – Then management was improved, the health of the river was taken into account and allocation of water and regulation of both water and silt were considered – a large reform. – In 2011, the Yellow River Conservancy Commission won the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize in Singapore.
  32. 32. Water Management II: Groundwater • Ten years ago, Li Wenpeng, assistant to the director at the Chinese Institute of Geological Environment Monitoring, and his colleagues, joined with 40 academics in signing a letter to the State Council. It called for a central groundwater monitoring body to be established. In 2011 the National Groundwater Monitoring Project got underway to fill that gap, with tens of thousands of people on call – but after the initial excitement, nothing happened. • Three years ago, Ma Zhong, dean of Renmin University’s School of the Environment and Natural Resources, discovered that water input to Chinese industry was four times recorded waste water output. Even accounting for various losses and uses, 16 billion tonnes of waste water was missing. Suspecting that it was ending up underground, he reported his findings to the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP). But he saw no more done to protect groundwater.
  33. 33. • The letters from experts and academicians evolved into the Proposal for a National Groundwater Monitoring Project. This proposal received approval from a State Council project office in October 2011, was given the nod by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), and then in August 2012 a feasibility study from the Ministries of Land and of Water Resources was submitted to the NDRC. • A year and a half later, not one of the 20,000 proposed monitoring stations has been built. Grand plans to cover one- third of China’s land area within three years of funding remain stuck in Beijing. Already one of the signatories to the original letter, Academic Liu Dongsheng, has passed away. • The latest word on the project is that it is awaiting the MEP’s environmental impact assessment; a stability assessment (an assessment of the project’s risks to social stability); and more importantly decisions by the new leadership on the body that will undertake the project, funding and staffing, and responsibilities.
  34. 34. • Lin Zuoding, head of the Bureau of Hydrology at the Ministry of Water Resources, is also anxious to get started. In 2002, the ministry drafted plans for groundwater monitoring and in 2004, submitted plans for an automated monitoring of groundwater on the plains around Beijing. Seven or eight years later, as work was about to start, the new stability assessments again held things back. • Under the 2011-2020 National Groundwater Pollution Prevention Plan it will be 2015 before we have a “basic grasp” of how bad the pollution actually is, and 2020 before we have “complete monitoring” of the typical sources of groundwater pollution and the mechanisms to prevent groundwater pollution are “basically established.”
  35. 35. Lack of pollution monitoring • The data is also lagging. In the 1980s and again 2002, the Ministry of Land carried out two rounds of groundwater evaluation. The overall data obtained in those surveys is still often quoted and reprinted today. • The Ministry of Land spends a mere 100 million yuan on monitoring. A complete analysis of pollutants in a groundwater sample costs at least 1,000 yuan – or 2,000 yuan if organic pollutants, a worsening problem, are to be tested for. At these levels of funding, only a few standard tests can be done. • A vicious circle has formed: the problem is not taken seriously, so funding is inadequate, so experts do not have the data to influence policy, so the problem is not taken seriously.
  36. 36. • No government leaders are writing memos about dealing with groundwater pollution, and in China, that’s what matters. • Around October 2011, the Ministry of Land had the IHEG submit a report to the State Council, documenting groundwater pollution on the northern Chinese plain, and presenting suggestions for dealing with the problem. • The report was based on a full and accurate survey – and the data was shocking: overall shallow ground water on the plain was of poor quality and heavily polluted, and only 55.87 of sampling points were not polluted. • “Illicit underground dumping of waste water is common in the north of China,” said Lu Yaoru, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. And research bodies have had no choice but to write directly to the Premier: “groundwater pollution is already extremely severe, no one ministry can deal with it – they need to work together.”
  37. 37. • The Premier quickly handed the task down to the relevant departments, including the Ministries of Land, Water Resources, and Housing and Urban-Rural Development – with the MEP to head up the effort. • A year of “discussions” between the recipients followed. In September 2012 there was still no sign of a plan for joint action, forcing Lu Yaoru to speak out at the conference of the China Association for Science and Technology. Soon a preliminary plan of work was produced, but “they sent it up for approval, and nothing’s come back.” • In 2011 the MEP published both technological principles for evaluating environmental impacts on groundwater and the 2011-2020 National Groundwater Pollution Prevention Plan, and also started a nationwide groundwater evaluation.
  38. 38. • In response to rumours of pollution, Shandong has started a project to clean up groundwater, while repeated exposure of cases of groundwater pollution around the country have forced the authorities in Beijing to pay attention, with investigation teams understood to have been dispatched. • China has long researched groundwater pollution – there’s a monitoring well inside Capital Normal University, just outside Beijing’s West Third Ring Road. That well has been used since the 1960s, and is even known internationally.
  39. 39. • The Ministries of Land, Water Resources, and Environmental Protection are responsible for the monitoring, extraction and environment of groundwater, respectively. Their main concerns are, again respectively, preventing subsidence, quantity of supply, and water quality and pollution. • So three ministries, with tens of thousands of employees, all worked on groundwater for decades – yet there is no sign of action on groundwater pollution. There is no data, no legislation, no new monitoring wells, and much less any high- quality restoration of polluted groundwater. • “Discussions” between the ministries are underway, but much time has been wasted. Lu Yaoru has studied groundwater for 60 years and cuts to the heart of the problem: “Departmental interests and poorly-defined powers and responsibilities.” • As the government fails to act, the markets are cherry-picking the more profitable aspects of groundwater treatment.
  40. 40. • In September 2011, clearer government policy made soil restoration a favourite on the capital markets. In just a few years dozens of soil restoration firms were founded. But the start of plans for cleaning up groundwater pollution did not meet the same enthusiasm. • “The motivation for cleaning up the soil came from property developers, but there’s an obvious lack of a similar motivation when it comes to groundwater,” explained Gao Shengda, chief editor of an industry website, China Environmental Restoration. All agree that dealing with groundwater pollution is a much tougher proposition. • The only company to participate in the MEP’s plans was BCEG Environmental Remediation. Gao Yanli, general manager of the firm, once said that the soil restoration sector had expanded “beyond expectations”, but was much more cautious when it came to groundwater. “With groundwater there’s no profit for money spent – the main benefit is public health. But who pays for it?, ” asks Li Wenpeng.
  41. 41. Tibet • Tibet has over 30% of China’s fresh water supply, most coming from the annual snow melt and the annual partial melting around the edges of some Himalayan glaciers. • Hydro projects offer enormous potential rewards in electricity as well as in water supply. How much electricity water can generate is directly proportional to how far it falls into the turbines: the Yangzi completes 90% of its drop to the sea before it even leaves Tibet, and the Yellow River completes 80% of its decline before it leaves Inner Mongolia. • The Chinese government has announced plans for 20 additional hydro projects on the upper Yangzi and its tributaries; if they are all completed, they would add 66% to the already existing hydropower capacity on the river (which includes Three Gorges).23
  42. 42. State-building and Dam-building From the 1950s to the mid-1980s, China built many dams, but few in the west where hydro potential is concentrated. Why? • Many of the dams were constructed by mobilizing large amounts of labor (especially off-season peasant labor) in place of scarce capital, and it was a lot easier to use that labour close to home than to send it far away. • The supporting infrastructure (e.g. roads) and technology for dam building in remote mountain locations was not available; the far reaches of the upper Yangzi were not even surveyed until the late 1970s. • The government was much more ambivalent about rapid development in the far west, with some leaders prioritizing paternalistic policies that would avoid radical cultural change to assure political stability in the region.
  43. 43. All this changed in the last two decades, leading to a sharp rise in huge dam projects in Yunnan and Tibet because • The technical capacities and infrastructure needed for capital- intensive projects in these areas are now available; • The pressure to increase domestic supplies of energy (and other resources, including water) has become intense; • The Central Government has decided that raising incomes in the far west is the best way to keep control and make use of those territories – even if the wrenching cultural changes, massive Han immigration, and severe inequalities accompanying this development increase conflict. Meanwhile, changes in the relationships among the central government, provincial governments, and private investors have helped create enormous opportunities to gain both power and profit through accelerated dam building.
  44. 44. • Plans to “send western electricity east,” with a particular focus on developing Yunnan hydropower for booming Guangdong, date back to the 1980s; seasonal deliveries of power began in 1993. • Beginning in 2001, Guangdong began annual power purchases from Yunnan – and at the same time, Beijing began vetoing plans for additional coal-fired power plant construction in Guangdong, which made reliance on hydropower an absolute necessity for the rapidly-growing Pearl River Delta. • This allowed the centre to maintain leverage over coastal boom areas and integrate peripheral regions more deeply into Beijing’s vision of a national political economy.
  45. 45. The “corporatizing” of the electrical power industry has created complex webs of public and private actors with strong interests in Southwestern hydro development. • In 2002, the government-owned State Power Corporation of China was broken into 5 corporations, each of which was given exclusive development rights in particular watersheds. (There is also a sixth, connected to Three Gorges, which is directly under the State Council.) • These companies were 100% state-owned, but have created partially-owned subsidiaries which sell shares to private parties (on the Shanghai, Hong Kong and New York stock exchanges), thus raising capital while retaining control. • These subsidiaries, in turn, have combined with other subsidiaries of the big 5 and/or companies established by provincial governments to establish still other companies that undertake particular projects.
  46. 46. This organization allows dam-builders to take advantage of private capital markets and corporate organization, but their links to the state remain crucial: • Huaneng Power Group, which holds development rights for the Lancang (Upper Mekong), was until recently headed by Li Xiaopeng, son of former Premier (and chief advocate of the Three Gorges project) Li Peng. • His sister, Li Xiaolin, is the CEO of Huaneng’s most important subsidiary, China Power International Development Ltd. (a Hong Kong corporation).
  47. 47. • The transactions that create subsidiaries often involve the parent company giving the subsidiary some important asset (such as generators, transmission lines, or development rights) in return for a large stake in the new company; • Since there are rarely well-developed markets for these assets and the state-owned parent company does not face the same pressures to be profitable as the subsidiary, the prices at which these assets are transferred can be easily manipulated to artificially lower the costs (and increase the profits) of the subsidiary and its investors. • Since all of these companies continue to do business with each other (sending power over somebody else’s lines, for instance), there are many opportunities to transfer costs back and forth between entities that need to show a profit and others that do not (or that are less favored by powerful actors).
  48. 48. • Powerful government connections also make it all the more likely that these companies will be able to avoid acknowledging (much less bearing) the full social and environmental costs of their work. • The large and sometimes unpredictable fluctuations in water volumes far upstream mean that the turbines will not always be fully utilized, so that the actual amount of power generated may be much less impressive than is suggested by the enormous figures for “installed capacity” that are listed for these projects: uncertainties which holders of development rights seeking either investment partners or permission to build have no incentive to highlight. • Both political motives and profit seeking by politically- connected people are almost certainly causing dams to be built in a number of additional cases, where even a narrowly economic analysis would not justify them.
  49. 49. Implications for Tibet and Tibetans • Even many projects that will genuinely help millions in northern and eastern China – and perhaps others that will curb China’s carbon emissions and its future food imports -- have serious implications for people who live near the projects. Tibetans and other ethnic minorities in the far Southwest are likely to be the most affected. • A massive dam proposed at the great bend in the Yalong Zangbo (Yarlong Tsangpo) – 40,000 megawatts, or almost twice the capacity of Three Gorges -- would again dramatically change a sacred site, to create power and water supplies that would mostly go to Han Chinese very far away. Meanwhile, the project poses serious risks for the traditional livelihoods of many people.
  50. 50. • Road-building and railway-building – particularly the Qinghai-Tibet highway and the railroad that runs near it, completed in 2006 – have substantially damaged the permafrost layer in adjacent areas; the permafrost, in turn, protects a series of underground lakes, so this is likely to exacerbate an already worrisome drying trend in the region. • Wetlands and grasslands that are important to the large numbers of livestock herders in Tibet have already shrunk; this is likely to make them shrink faster. • Dams in Yunnan appear to be interfering with local fisheries, and new ones pose significant threats to China’s greatest concentration of biodiversity. And since much of this region is seismically quite active, the risk of an earthquake precipitating a catastrophic dam failure and sudden floods cannot be dismissed.
  51. 51. Tibet in the Global Environment
  52. 52. • Few places in the world are as important as Tibet for the global environment. Global warming, climate change, receding glaciers, desertification, food insecurity and loss of biodiversity all point to the significance of Tibet. • With an area of about 2.5 million square kilometres, or about one-third the area of the continental United States, the Tibetan Plateau is the largest high region on Earth. With an average elevation of 4,500 metres above sea level, the Tibetan Plateau stretches for almost 3,000 kilometres from west to east and 1,500 kilometres from south to north. • The Plateau is ringed by high mountains – the Himalayas to the south, the Karakorum in the west and the Kunlun across the north. The Tibetan Plateau goes beyond political frontiers and encompasses much of the higher elevation Himalayan regions in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan as well as all of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Qinghai, western Sichuan, northern Yunnan, western Gansu and southern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China.
  53. 53. • The Tibetan Plateau plays an important role in global climate change. With its extensive alpine grasslands that store carbon in their plants and soil, the Plateau is a significant carbon pool. The carbon stored in the grassland ecosystem is important to regional and global carbon cycles; it has the potential to modify global carbon cycles and influence climate. What takes place in the Tibetan grasslands therefore should be of increasing importance to a world more and more concerned about climate change. • With thousands of glaciers scattered across the Plateau and the Himalayas, the region has the most snow and ice outside of the polar regions. The glacier-fed rivers originating from the Tibetan Plateau make up the largest river run-off from any single location in the world. With global warming, the total area of glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau is expected to shrink by 80% by the year 2030.
  54. 54. Himalayan Glaciers Melting • “In Bhutan, 66 glaciers have decreased by 8.1 per cent over the last 30 years. Rapid changes in the Himalaya has been seen in India where Chhota Shigri Glacier has retreated by 12 per cent over the last 13 years and Gangotri Glacier — that is considered to have originated in 1780 – witnessed 12 per cent shrinkage in the main stem in the last 16 years,” The United States Geological Survey in its report — published in collaboration with 39 international scientists — says that glaciers throughout the Asia region — Russia, China, India, Nep al, Bhutan, Pakistan, Afgh anistan, Georgia, Kyrgyzs tan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan — are retreating.
  55. 55. • The loss of these glaciers will dramatically affect major rivers that provide water for more than one-third of the world’s population. The effect of glaciers receding will be felt well beyond the borders of the Tibetan Plateau, with profound impacts over a wide area in Asia and great risks of increased poverty, reduced trade and economic turmoil. This presents major political, environmental and socio-economic challenges in the years ahead. • The Tibetan Plateau forms the headwaters environment where the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Brahmaputra, Ganges, Sutl ej and Indus rivers originate. In addition, rivers from the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau flow into the Tarim Basin and the Gansu Corridor, providing precious water for the oasis towns along the old Silk Road. The management of these river source environments has global implications, as the water from their watersheds will be of increasing importance in the future. The water they provide is critical to
  56. 56. • The recent floods in the Indian states of Bihar and Assam draw attention to the critical role of the Tibetan environment in regulating water flow to downstream areas. • Few people realise that the Kosi River, which recently flooded and displaced millions of people in the northern Indian state of Bihar, actually has its origins on the north side of Mount Everest. • Or that almost 60% of the total length of the 2,906 kilometre-long Brahmaputra River that floods India and Bangladesh every year is located in Tibet.
  57. 57. Tibet Warming • The Chinese Academy of Sciences has analyzed data from 680 Chinese weather stations. This shows that average temperatures in Tibet have risen 0.9° centigrade since the 1980s and this has precipitated an annual 7% reduction in glacier extent and the melting of permafrost. • Recent climate change has had a severe impact on the mountain glaciers and permafrost of Tibet and threatens to affect water supplies to many of the rivers draining the plateau. • Water supply increases during the period of glacier recession and the period of time when flow is high is extended as the ablation (melting) season extends. This period may be short-lived, as once the glacier has melted (or has become covered with debris), runoff is greatly reduced and will eventually depend upon more seasonal precipitation, changing the variability of river discharge, with consequent impacts upon agricultural systems downstream.
  58. 58. Glacier recession and water supply • As glaciers melt and lose mass, surrounding hillsides become unstable, producing debris flows and rock slides which deliver large amounts of sediments into the valley bottoms. This increases the sediment load of rivers, which adversely affects hydro-electric power schemes downstream and reduces the economic life of reservoirs and irrigation schemes. • In China, recession of the mountain glaciers threatens to disrupt the water supply of over 300 million people as many of the great rivers of the Asian continent (Yellow, Mekong, Indus, Ganges and others) have their headwaters on the Tibetan plateau, and in over 100 cities in China, including Beijing, the water situation is critical. Climate change, water supply, and social and economic stability are inextricably linked.
  59. 59. Dust storms • Deserts in China are related largely to the position and nature of the east-Asian and Indian summer monsoons, which control rainfall. They are located in the arid centre of the country, away from oceanic influences and protected by the mountains to the west and south from incursion of rain-bearing winds. • During the winter, they are affected by the Siberian high-pressure system bringing dry and very cold conditions. Climate change, allied to unsustainable land-use practices, is increasing the number and size of dust storms from these deserts. • A report in 2001 showed that 2,300 square kilometers of topsoil is lost to dust storms each year from northern China alone. This year, northern China experienced 13 major dust storms, one of which deposited over 330,000 tons of sand in Beijing in April and others have deposited dust in Russia, South Korea and the central United States.
  60. 60. Permafrost melting • Dust storms are also associated with thawing of previously frozen soils and, with much of the Tibetan plateau underlain by permafrost, climate change threatens to increase the scale of desertification in the region. Of wider concern is the likely positive feedback to global warming caused by the release of greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide from frozen soils as they thaw. • Recent studies have shown that methane will be released if melting permafrost produces waterlogged soils, and carbon dioxide if the soils dry out. With estimates of the amount of carbon locked up in permafrost ranging between 60 and 190 billion tons, thawing of the soil over vast tracts of the Tibetan plateau will produce an enormous release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and a likely further step-change in global warming, with severe consequences for us all. • Studies such as these demonstrate how interconnected the climate system is; emissions of greenhouse gases in one part of the world impact upon glaciers and permafrost in another, which in turn result in further emissions.
  61. 61. Tibet’s disappearing grasslands
  62. 62. • The high-altitude meadows of Tibet are rarely mentioned in discussions of global warming, but the changes to this ground have a profound impact on Tibetan politics and the world’s ecological security. • In recent years the vegetation of the Tibetan plateau, has been destroyed by rising temperatures, excess livestock and plagues of insects and rodents. • “The grass used to be up to here…Twenty years ago, we had to scythe it down. But now, well, you can see for yourself. It's so short it looks like moss." • The green prairie has become a brown desert. All that is left of the grasslands here are yellowing blotches on a stony surface riddled with rodent holes. It is the same across much of this plateau, which encompasses an area a third of the size of the United States.
  63. 63. • Scientists say the desertification of the mountain grasslands is accelerating climate change. Without its thatch, the roof of the world is less able to absorb moisture and more likely to radiate heat. • Partly because of this, the Tibetan mountains have warmed two to three times faster than the global average; the permafrost and glaciers of the earth’s "third pole" are melting. • To make matters worse, the towering Kunlun, Himalayan and Karakorum mountain ranges that surround the plateau act as a chimney for water vapour – which has a stronger greenhouse-gas effect than carbon dioxide – to be convected high into the stratosphere. Mixed with pollution, dust and black carbon (soot) from India and elsewhere, this spreads a brown cloud across swaths of the Eurasian landmass. When permafrost melts, it can also release methane, another powerful greenhouse gas. Xiao Ziniu, the director general of the Beijing climate centre, says Tibet’s climate is the most sensitive in Asia and influences the globe.
  64. 64. Yellow River threatened by desertification in Tibet's wetlands
  65. 65. The “kidneys” of the Tibetan plateau are failing.

The Zoige Wetland National Nature Reserve, which sits on the northeastern fringe of western China’s Qinghai-Tibet plateau, contains the largest alpine peat wetlands in the world. It is also the catchment area for the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers; known as the “kidneys of the plateau”, these wetlands provide at least 30% of the water flowing into the upper reaches of the Yellow River.

But they are gradually disappearing. Desertification here is increasing at a rate of more than 10% per year. “Of the county’s 17 villages and towns, 10 are suffering from desertification, and more than 70,000 hectares are affected,” said the deputy head of Zoige County Forestry Bureau, Zuo Lin. “The situation is quite critical.”
  66. 66. 67 Long-term Effects on China and India China and India will suffer the most from global warming because their river systems are stabilized by melting snow in Tibet Short-term flooding as snow melts. Then loss of reservoir of snow will mean that water flow becomes unstable Disruption of weather patterns will affect agriculture, water supplies. China and India have responsibility for the largest populations so they will be most vulnerable to social stability.
  67. 67. Impact on Neighbours • China is planning a major hydroelectric dam and water diversion scheme on the great bend of the Yalong Zangbo River in Tibet.38 The 40,000 megawatt hydro project itself raises huge issues for Tibetans and for China. • The plan not only calls for impounding huge amounts of water behind a dam, but also for changing the direction that the water flows beyond the dam – so that it would eventually feed into the South-North diversion project. The water that would be diverted currently flows south into Assam to help form the Brahmaputra, which in turn joins the Ganges to form the world’s largest river delta, supplying much of the water to a basin with over 300 million inhabitants.
  68. 68. 69 Tibet and Water
  69. 69. • Most of Asia’s major rivers – the Yellow, the Yangzi, the Mekong, Salween, Irrawaddy, Brahmaputra, Ganges, Sutlej, a nd Indus – draw on the glaciers and snowmelt of the Himalayas, and all of these except the Ganges have their source on the Chinese side of the border in Tibet. • Pakistan and much of India (especially in the North and West) face very serious shortages of water for agriculture and for daily domestic use, as well as serious rural power shortages. The latter problem intensifies the former for many people, as it makes the operation of deep wells increasingly impractical; but in the longer run easing the power shortage without solving the water supply crisis will just intensify future shortages. • In most of Southeast Asia, by contrast, there is plenty of water for now, but electricity is in short supply, and plans to alleviate that problem through hydropower threaten delicate riverine ecosystems.
  70. 70. 71 Long-term Effects of China and India IV
  71. 71. Pakistan may depend more on irrigation than any other large country on earth. Over half of the country receives less than 8 inches of rainfall per year; by way of comparison, Phoenix, Arizona averages 8.4 inches.40 Only 8% of the country gets over 20 inches per year – the amount that falls in Tel Aviv.41 Yet the country is predominantly agricultural, and almost 80% of farming requires irrigation. As recently as 1990, irrigation accounted for a stunning 96% of water use.42 Meanwhile, much of the groundwater is brackish and/or badly polluted – partly due to current pollution, but also in part a legacy of past irrigation projects; some of the brackishness results from salination and waterlogging that goes back to colonial era projects. Consequently, people often rely on diversions from irrigation canals to get water for their daily needs.
  72. 72. Northern and Northwestern India are not quite as dry as Pakistan, but nonetheless have millions of farmers, several arid regions, and highly irregular, often inadequate rains elsewhere. For India as a whole, the per capita water supply is about ¼ of the global average – as it is for China.45 Moreover, half the annual rainfall comes in 15 days, and 90% of total river flow comes during 4 months.46 Yet India has built only 1/5 as much water storage capacity per capita as China (and about 1/25 as much as the US or Australia).47 Canals for surface irrigation were built on a large scale in some areas under the British, and on a considerably larger scale after Independence; but many have been poorly maintained and/or not run to serve those who lack political influence.
  73. 73. • So in north and northwest India (and some other regions), probably even more than in northern China, well-digging has been essential to enabling farmers to survive, and to a “green revolution” that raised agricultural yields enough to keep up with the enormous population growth of the last half century. (As in many other cases, the high-yielding hybrid wheat, rice, and cotton seeds all required more water than older varieties.) Groundwater now provides 70% of India’s irrigation water, and close to 80% of water for domestic use.49 • This extremely aggressive exploitation of groundwater is unsustainable. Well water is free to any farmer who can reach it by drilling down from his land, and the electricity to run the pumps is heavily subsidized, greatly straining the budgets of many Indian states.50 Even at heavily subsidized prices, however, energy costs have become a huge burden for many small farmers as water levels drop and pumps must work harder;51 moreover, the irregular way electricity is provided, with frequent spikes and interruptions, often ruins pumps, wreaking sudden devastation on unfortunate farmers. The large inequalities in landholding within many Indian villages are a further complication which is much more pronounced than in any part of rural China.
  74. 74. • In India, the central government’s inability to enforce water-sharing agreements among the states has led some upstream states to build extra water storage in order to keep for themselves water that is at least as badly needed downstream; meanwhile, some downstream states, despite desperate shortages, have balked at implementing water-saving measures that might weaken their claims to need a larger allocation from rivers flowing through multiple states. And since only direct human uses of water count as “needs” in these allocations, any other uses – e.g. releasing water to help maintain estuarial eco-systems – count as “waste” that might weaken future claims, and are thus discouraged.60