May 6, 2009

Global Warming Threatens Tibet

Global warming could result in massive droughts and flooding in Tibet, posing threats to the wellbeing of millions of people, according to the head of the China Meteorological Bureau.

According to China's Xinhua news agency, Zheng Guoguang reported on Wednesday that climate change has "accelerated glacial shrinkage, and the melting glaciers have swollen Tibet's lakes."

"If the warming continues, millions of people in western China will face floods in the short term and drought in the long run," Zheng said.

"In Tibet, the mercury has climbed an average 0.32 degrees Celsius every decade since records began in 1961," Zheng said during a conference on climate change in Lhasa.

"This is much higher than the national average temperature rise of 0.05-0.08 degrees Celsius every 10 years."

He added that China's railway system to Tibet could become a casualty of climate change if the permafrost that supports the railway was to melt.

"In the worst case, such warming could cause permafrost to melt and threaten the plateau railway linking Tibet with (neighboring) Qinghai province."

Xinhua said Chinese officials believe the Tibetan railway will be safe for the next 40 years if warming continues at the current rate. China has spent more than 1 billion yuan ($146.6 million) over the past 20 years reinforcing the main highway to Tibet, the news agency reported.

Zheng said the Tibetan plateau, with an average altitude of more than 4,000 meters (13,300 feet), was a "magnifier" of global warming.

"Tibet needs to tackle and adapt to the persisting climate change," said Zheng.