An Urgent Call to Protect The World’s “Third Pole”: Tshering Tobgay (Transcript)

Tshering Tobgay at TED Talks

Tshering Tobgay – TED Talk TRANSCRIPT

On the 17th of October, 2009, President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives did something unusual. He held his cabinet meeting underwater. He literally took his ministers scuba diving, as it were, to warn the world that his country could drown unless we control global warming.

Now I don’t know whether he got his message across to the world or not, but he certainly caught mine. I saw a political stunt.

You see, I’m a politician, and I notice these things. And let’s be honest, the Maldives are distant from where I come from — my country is Bhutan — so I didn’t lose any sleep over their impending fate.

Barely two months later, I saw another political stunt. This time, the Prime Minister of Nepal, he held his cabinet meeting on Mount Everest. He took all his ministers all the way up to the base camp of Everest to warn the world that the Himalayan glaciers were melting.

Now did that worry me? You bet it did.

I live in the Himalayas. But did I lose any sleep over his message? No. I wasn’t ready to let a political stunt interfere with my beauty sleep.

Now fast-forward 10 years. In February this year, I saw this report. This here report basically concludes that one-third of the ice on the Hindu Kush Himalaya mountains could melt by the end of the century. But that’s only if — if we are able to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade over preindustrial levels.

Otherwise, if we can’t, the glaciers would melt much faster. 1.5 degrees Celsius. “No way,” I thought. Even the Paris Agreement’s ambitious targets aimed to limit global warming to two degrees centigrade. 1.5 degrees centigrade is what they call the best-case scenario.

“Now this can’t be true,” I thought.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya region is the world’s third-largest repository of ice, after the North and South Poles. That’s why we are also called the “Third Pole.” There’s a lot of ice in the region. And yes, the glaciers, they are melting. We know that.

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I have been to those in my country. I’ve seen them, and yes, they are melting. They are vulnerable. “But they can’t be that vulnerable,” I remember thinking.

But what if they are? What if our glaciers melt much more quickly than I anticipate? What if our glaciers are much more vulnerable than previously thought? And what if, as a result, the glacial lakes — now these are lakes that form when glaciers melt — what if those lakes burst under the weight of additional water?

And what if those floods cascade into other glacial lakes, creating even bigger outbursts? That would create unprecedented flash floods in my country. That would wreck my country. That would wreak havoc in my country. That would have the potential to literally destroy our land, our livelihood, our way of life.

So that report caught my attention in ways that political stunts couldn’t. It was put together by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, or ICIMOD, which is based in Nepal.

Scientists and experts have studied our glaciers for decades, and their report kept me awake at night, agonizing about the bad news and what it meant for my country and my people.

So after several sleepless nights, I went to Nepal to visit ICIMOD. I found a team of highly competent and dedicated scientists there, and here’s what they told me.

Number one: the Hindu Kush Himalaya glaciers have been melting for some time now. Take that glacier, for instance. It’s on Mount Everest. As you can see, this once massive glacier has already lost much of its ice.

Number two: the glaciers are now melting much more quickly — so quickly, in fact, that at just 1.5 degrees centigrade of global warming, one-third of the glaciers would melt. At two degrees centigrade of global warming, half the glaciers would disappear.

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