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CGTN releases documentary focusing on impact of climate change on Qinghai-Xizang Plateau

“If all the snow melts on Amne Machin, will it still be our sacred mountain?” asked Palyang, a young Tibetan girl who dedicates herself to environmental conservation, when conducting a field survey on the mountain’s snow line on the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau.

As a sacred mountain in the hearts of the Tibetan people, Amne Machin is not only the source of the Yellow River, giving birth to life, but also inherits people’s religious legends. However, the glaciers there keep melting due to climate change.

From 2021 to 2023, the snow line on Amne Machin retreated 59.5 meters. Beyond that, more negative impacts of climate change on the plateau are also showing up, such as the drying up of some rivers, an uneven distribution of precipitation and the degradation of grasslands.

What is happening on the plateau is only an embodiment of climate change. Globally, researchers found that the annual rates of glacier thinning had nearly doubled, from 36 centimeters in 2000 to 69 centimeters in 2019. As temperatures may rise by 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, glaciers across the Himalayan region will lose 30 percent to 50 percent of their volume by 2100, according to an assessment by the Kathmandu-based International Center for Integrated Mountain Development.

Focusing on the impact of climate change on the natural environment and the lives of Tibetans on the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau, CGTN on Saturday released a documentary titled “The Call of Glaciers.” The documentary records what it feels like for people living on the plateau to see the glaciers melt and how herders are trying to conserve their homeland in their own way.

The Qinghai-Xizang Plateau is one of the most sensitive areas to climate change. Over the last five decades, the average temperature there has risen twice as fast as the global average and the mountain glaciers have retreated by 15 percent. Hailed as the “Third Pole” of the world and Asia’s “water tower,” the plateau plays an important role in maintaining the stability of the global climate, ensuring water supply, biodiversity conservation and reducing carbon emissions. Unfortunately, however, the United Nations Environment Programme warns that the plateau will be warmer and wetter by the end of the century, possibly causing yet more disasters.

Climate change means a range of long-term threats for the plateau. The retreating snow line of Amne Machin provides only a unique sort of warning about the broader impact of a warming world. In recent years, more ferocious floods, droughts, wildfires and other disasters due to climate change have continued to occur. And countries need to respond sufficiently to those threats.

China has always attached great importance to addressing climate change. In September this year, China put into force the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau Ecological Protection Law, with climate change listed as a priority.

Since the 2010s, China has gradually established a system for natural protected areas with national parks as the main body. On October 12, 2021, the Sanjiangyuan National Park, located on the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau, was officially established as one of the first batch of national parks, with stricter management and supervision and more local herders participating in climate governance. As of 2021, 407 protected areas and nature parks have been established on the plateau, accounting for about 35.5 percent of its total area.

China has also continued to promote research on the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau to reveal the mechanism of environmental change and improve local ecological conservation. The second comprehensive scientific expedition on the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau is still underway.

More broadly, China has been actively responding to the call for improving global climate governance with concrete actions. To meet its “dual carbon” goals set in 2020, namely peaking carbon emissions before 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality before 2060, the country strengthened its efforts to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and accelerated its transition to clean energy.

The efforts have paid off. In 2022, the country’s emission intensity of carbon dioxide decreased by more than 51 percent from 2005. Good news also came on Thursday, when the National Energy Administration announced that China’s installed capacity for utilizing renewable energy to generate power has constituted more than half of its total installed capacity.

China is working to put into force more pragmatic and effective measures to mitigate climate change. In the latest move, China has released a list of the first batch of 35 pilot cities and high-tech industrial development parks that will aim to peak carbon dioxide emissions.

All these efforts, after all, may add more hopes for preserving the glaciers on Amne Machin and a continuous improvement of life for Palyang, the young Tibetan girl and her fellow herders living on the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau.

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Photography by Christophe Tomatis
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