The outgoing US President Donald Trump has signed an omnibus bill that contains the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 into law on 27 December 2020, making it the official policy of the U.S government despite China’s protest. It is another strong bipartisan support for Tibetan people by US Congress and the White House before the end of the Trump administration.
Building upon the landmark Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, which calls for environmental sustainability for Tibetans inside Tibet. All the projects in Tibet, supported by an international financial institution, other international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and the United States should be preceded by a cultural and environmental impact assessment.
However, with changing times and the new challenges posed by the Chinese Communist Party in the past many years, the revised Tibetan Policy and Support Act 2020 makes several significant amendments and additions to US policy on Tibet. Within this important legislation, TPSA aimed at protecting the environment and water resources on the Tibetan plateau. It recognizes the strategic importance of the Tibetan glaciers that feed the major rivers of South and Southeast Asia. These rivers also support wetlands that play a key role in water storage, water quality, and the regulation of water flow, and support biodiversity, foster vegetation growth and act as carbon sinks.
Due to climate change, these glaciers are melting at a rate twice the global average. Therefore the bill calls to pursue efforts to monitor the environment on the Tibetan Plateau and to promote a greater understanding of its effects.
Besides it also identifies the importance of traditional Tibetan grassland stewardship in mitigating the negative effects of warming on the Tibetan plateau as opposed to the Chinese government’s forced resettlement of the Tibetan nomads from their traditional pasture land into a concentrated settlement. Hence the legislation calls upon the Secretary of State to engage with the Government of the People’s Republic of China, the Central Tibetan Administration, and non-governmental organizations to encourage the participation of Tibetan nomads and other Tibetan stakeholders in the development and implementation of grassland management policies, to utilize their indigenous experience in mitigation and stewardship of the land, and to assess policies on the forced resettlement of nomads.
Considering the importance of freshwater water resources, Tibet is also known as the water tower of Asia, it sustains over a billion people. Besides, it also shows concern about China’s hydropower ambitions in the region, TPSA proposes a regional framework on water security to facilitate cooperative agreements among all riparian nations that would promote transparency, sharing of information, pollution regulation, and arrangements on impounding and diversion of waters that originate on the Tibetan Plateau. Considering the strategic importance of Tibet’s rivers in the region, this bill also amended Section 1202(b) of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2000 (Public Law 106–65; 10 U.S.C. 113 note) by adding “Tibet’s strategic importance and the strategic importance of water resources from the Tibetan Plateau in regional and territorial disputes”.
Dr. Lobsang Sangay, President of Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) has called it a historic moment. In his video message to Tibetans around the world, he attributed the landmark legislation to the tireless efforts of the Dalai Lama, the courage and resilience of six million Tibetans inside Tibet, and the collective efforts of Tibetans and friends around the world.
As he mentioned, under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Environment and Development Desk of CTA’s Tibet Policy Institute and many NGOs have call for an international community and neighboring countries to recognize the global significance of the Tibetan plateau and the need for inter-governmental engagement to protect the Tibetan plateau from excessive mining and damming since 1992, particularly in a 10-Point Call to Action published by the Environment Desk as part of the COP21 Climate Action for Tibet during United Nation Climate Change Conference or the COP21 Paris Summit.
Veerabhadran Ramanathan, an atmospheric scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California has rightly said that “Our understanding of global climate change would be incomplete without taking into consideration what’s happening to the Tibetan plateau”.
Henceforth, Like the USA, countries especially in South and Southeast Asia should follow the suit in passing a bill to protect the source of freshwater water resources for 1.5 billion people by making it central to any discussion on global climate change. Passing such bill not only helps Tibetan people and wildlife but also brings a significant contribution to the earth’s biological wealth. Even thinking about one’s national interests, securing Tibet’s water resources and its environment can ensure clean and fresh water resources for all the downstream countries especially India.
*Dechen Palmo is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute. This is an edited version.