But it’s not just the people in the immediate region who’ll be affected. People living downstream will also be hit hard. That’s because 10 of their major rivers originate in the Hindu Kush Himalaya mountains. These rivers provide critical water for agriculture and drinking water to more than 1.6 billion people living downstream. That’s one in five humans.
That’s why the Hindu Kush Himalaya mountains are also called the “water towers of Asia.”
But when glaciers melt, when monsoons turn severe, those rivers will obviously flood, so there will be deluges when water is not required and droughts will be very common, when water is desperately required.
In short, Asia’s water tower will be broken, and that will be disastrous for one-fifth of humanity.
Should the rest of the world care? Should you, for instance, care? Remember, I didn’t care when I heard that the Maldives could disappear underwater. And that is the crux of the problem, isn’t it?
We don’t care. We don’t care until we are personally affected. I mean, we know. We know climate change is real. We know that we face drastic and dramatic change. We know that it is coming fast. Yet most of us act as if everything were normal.
So we must care, all of us, and if you can’t care for those who are affected by the melting of glaciers, you should at least care for yourself. That’s because the Hindu Kush Himalaya mountains — the entire region is like the pulse of the planet.
If the region falls sick, the entire planet will eventually suffer. And right now, with our glaciers melting rapidly, the region is not just sick — it is crying out for help.
And how will it affect the rest of the world? One obvious scenario is the potential destabilization caused by tens of millions of climate refugees, who’ll be forced to move because they have no or little water, or because their livelihoods have been destroyed by the melting of glaciers.
Another scenario we can’t take lightly is the potential of conflict over water and the political destabilization in a region that has three nuclear powers: China, India, Pakistan.
I believe that the situation in our region is grave enough to warrant the creation of a new intergovernmental agency. So as a native from that part of the world, I want to propose here, today, the establishment of the Third Pole Council, a high-level, intergovernmental organization tasked with the singular responsibility of protecting the world’s third-largest repository of ice.
A Third Pole Council would consist of all eight countries located in the region as member countries, as equal member countries, and could also include representative organizations and other countries who have vested interests in the region as non-voting members.
But the big idea is to get all stakeholders together to work together. To work together to monitor the health of the glaciers; to work together to shape and implement policies to protect our glaciers, and, by extension, to protect the billions of people who depend on our glaciers.
We have to work together, because thinking globally, acting locally does not work. We’ve tried that in Bhutan. We’ve made immense sacrifices to act locally and while individual localized efforts will continue to be important, they cannot stand up to the onslaught of climate change.
To stand up to climate change, we must work together. We must think globally and act regionally. Our entire region must come together, to work together, to fight climate change together, to make our voices heard together. And that includes India and China. They must step up their game. They must take the ownership of the fight to protect our glaciers.
And for that, these two countries, these two powerful giants, must reduce their own greenhouse gases, control their pollution, and lead the fight. Lead the global fight against climate change. And all that with a renewed sense of urgency.
Only then — and that, too, only maybe — will our region and other regions that depend on our glaciers have any chance to avoid major catastrophes.
Time is running out. We must act together, now. Otherwise, the next time Nepal’s cabinet meets on Mount Everest, that spectacular backdrop may look quite different.
And if that happens, if our glaciers melt, rising sea levels could well drown the Maldives. And while they can hold their cabinet meetings underwater to send an SOS to the world, their country can keep existing only if their islands keep existing.
The Maldives are still distant, away. Their islands are distant from where I live. But now, I pay close attention to what happens out there.
Thank you very much.
Download This Transcript as PDF here: An Urgent Call to Protect The World & Third Pole_ Tshering Tobgay (Transcript)
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