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Tibet under serious climate risks despite current short-term gains from global warming

(TibetanReview.net, Aug24’21) – Following a recent expedition, Chinese government researchers have found that temperature and rainfall increases had made the Tibetan Plateau region greener, more fertile and more “beautiful”, expanding lakes and rivers and improving the habitats of gazelles, antelopes and donkeys. But a high price will be paid for this ‘beauty’, reported Reuters Aug 24, citing a summary of the expedition’s findings published by the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) on Aug 24.

This is because the gains of warmer temperatures last only for a short-term and will be followed by significant warming and humidification, exacerbating the occurrence of extreme weather and climate events.

Over the long term, warmer temperatures are likely to further destabilize weather patterns and water flows and encourage encroachment by invasive lowland species, putting native animals under stress, CMA has further said.

In this connection, a recent report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the plateau region was facing rising flood hazards and more frequent extreme heat and rain.

Temperatures in the Tibetan Plateau region are known to have risen 0.35 degrees Celsius per decade since 1960, twice the global average. Annual rainfall has increased 7.9 mm (0.31 inch) per decade since 1960, reaching 539.6 mm a year over the 2016-2020 period, 12.7 per cent higher than the 1961-1990 average.

These changes have led to a 20 per cent increase in the size of some plateau lakes, while parts of the Gobi Desert had also started to retreat, the report was cited as saying. And the number of disasters, including mudslides, avalanches and the breaking up of glaciers, was stated to have increased over the last four decades.

What remains to be seen, the report was cited as saying, is whether the region “remains within the optimal temperature range for vegetation growth”, and the balance of water resources is also under threat as a result of rapid glacier retreat and permafrost melt.

CMA has said glaciers in the region had shrunk by 15 per cent in the last 50 years, with their total area shrinking from 53,000 sq km to 45,000 sq km.

The Tibetan Plateau covers much of the remote northwest of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and includes the Himalayas. Chinese scientists have identified it as one of the PRC’s “ecological security barriers” and a vital “water tower” regulating flows to eastern, central and southern Asia.

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