Tibet's environment

In recent years, China's exploitation of Tibet's natural resources has gathered pace significantly.

Tibetans have no power to protect their own land and must watch the economic benefits of its resources flow out of their country.



Major rivers sourced in Tibet (source: Michael Buckley)

The Tibetan plateau, dubbed the “Third Pole” and part of the "Roof of the World", holds the third largest store of water-ice in the world and is the source of many of Asia’s rivers. Tibetan climate also generates and regulates monsoon rains over Asia.

For China's government, Tibet's water is another resource to be exploited, for hydro-electric power, diversion to supply people elsewhere in China, bottling as a consumer product, and even as a source of strategic influence over countries downstream who rely on water from Tibet's rivers.

Damming has taken place or will soon take place on every major river in Tibet. These dams change water flow, create new lakes, disturb local ecosystems and have significant effects downstream, including stopping the flow of silt which makes agricultural land fertile. Dams and infrastructure such as new roads can force Tibetans from their land.

In a massive engineering project, China even plans to divert water from Tibet to feed 300 million of its own citizens.


Chinese government owned mining companies are quickening their extraction of copper, gold and silver in Tibet. These mines are usually based close to rivers. Most workers in Tibetan mines are Chinese and the extraction takes place without regard to the local environment and areas of religious significance.

Tibet is also rich in other resources including lead, zinc, molybdenum, asbestos, uranium, chromium, lithium and much more. Tibet is China's only source of chromium and most of its accessible lithium is in Tibet. These raw materials are used in manufacturing of household goods, computers and smart phones, among much else.

China is the world’s largest producer of copper and the world’s second biggest consumer of gold. The World Gold Council predicts that the consumption in China will double within a decade. Tibet's reserves of copper and gold are worth nearly one trillion dollars.




Fossil fuels

China's plan for Tibet

China has recently drilled a 7 km borehole, to reach and explore Tibet's oil and natural gas resources. China National Petroleum Corporation estimates the basin's oil reserves at 10 billion tonnes.

Climate change

As well as global climate change, industrial projects such as mining, damming and deforestation are leading to the Tibetan glacier melting at a faster rate, contributing in turn to further global warming.

Before the Chinese occupation there was almost no Tibetan industrialization, damming, draining of wetlands, fishing and hunting of wildlife. Tibet remained unfenced, its grasslands intact, its cold climate able to hold enormous amounts of organic carbon in the soil.

China has now moved millions of Tibetan nomads from their traditional grasslands to urban settlements, opening their land for the extraction of resources and ending traditional agricultural practices which have sustained and protected the Tibetan environment for centuries.

Government support

Protest against government-sponsored power plant on Tibetan grazing land in Ngaba

The mining companies benefit from state financing of railways, power stations and many other infrastructure projects.

Much of China’s significant transport infrastructure developments in Tibet have been intended to facilitate the movement of military forces into the country and the removal of natural resources from it.

Companies also benefit from finance at concessional rates to corporate borrowers, tax holidays, minimal environmental standards and costs, no requirement to compensate local communities and subsidised rail freight rates to get concentrates to smelters or metal to markets.

Tibetans will have to bear the environmental costs and are not permitted to establish NGOs to give voice to environmental concerns.

Nor will Tibetan communities receive royalties from these projects.

Tibetans regularly protest against mining and other environmentally destructive practices (see video), such as the relocation of nomads.

Protest against arrests following protest against highway construction project in Rinchen
Woekyar Kyi, a nomad who self-immolated in 2015
A child washing vegetables in polluted water in Rebkong

Key points on this page sourced from Gabriel Lafitte 'Spoiling Tibet'

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Free Tibet is calling for international recognition for Tibet at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow in 2021.

Help us secure a place for Tibet at COP26. Sign our petition today and in the autumn we will take your signatures to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Environmental Affairs of participating countries.

Tibetans deserve representation and a say in their own environment.

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