A healthy environment sustains the health and culture of communities. Earth Economics seeks support for the "Greater Asian Watershed Project" to conduct an economic valuation of the ecosystem services provided by the watersheds and the major rivers stemming from the Tibetan Plateau. We will use this study as a tool to ensure the sustainable use and proper conservation of critical habitat and to support the local communities living both in the headwaters and downstream of the watershed.
The Tibetan Plateau, the largest and highest in the world, is known as the Roof of the World. It covers a total land area of 2.5 million square kilometers and stretches from the Himalayas in the south to the northern plains of Janthang. The plateau has an average elevation of more than 4000m above sea level. The mountains of the plateau are the highest in the world and home to rare and endangered species. Its glaciers and springs are the source of almost all of Asia's major rivers: the Yellow River, the Yangtze, the Mekong, the Salween, the Ganges, the Indus, the Irrawaddy and the Yarlung Tsangpo (which becomes the Brahmaputra downstream). Tibetans to refer to the plateau as the “Land of Snows” and the Chinese to call it the “Water Tower” of Asia.
Human civilization began some 2500 years ago on the plateau. For centuries the land was inaccessible to outsiders. Local Tibetans, who depended on nature for their livelihood and were culturally and religiously inclined to respect nature, managed the plateau’s ecosystems sustainably. As a result, these ecosystems remained in pristine condition for centuries.
In recent years, however, increasing industrialization and population growth threaten the delicate balance established by nature over centuries. The plateau’s mountains, forests, rivers, plains, flora and fauna are in danger of being despoiled to a point from which they cannot be restored. This will have both local and global repercussions. While inhabitants of the region will be faced with severe environmental problems, these problems will be transmitted downstream by the eight rivers to vast populations in Asia.
These issues have been rarely discussed at the international level and have received inadequate media attention. Unlike other threatened regions, such as the Amazon forest and Antarctica that have been studied extensively, the Tibetan Plateau has not been the subject of research on the same scale.
This valuation is essential as it holds significant promise to provide the factual basis and justification for the policy and on-the-ground solutions that to date have been elusive:
- Creation and implementation of land use and management policies that account for the value of the natural ecosystems and integrating these calculations into development plans.
- Maintaining the flora and fauna in their natural ecosystems to preserve biological diversity.
- Strengthen coordination/networking among local institutions and provide them with the capacity and factual context to pursue a conservation agenda within an economic context.
- Raise public awareness on the importance of the maintenance and protection of the plateau.
Please see our Greater Asian Watershed Project
concept paper for more detail.
In June 2010, Conservation International
provided a grant to conduct an Earth Economics “Rapid Ecosystem Service Valuation”, or rESV, study for the Qinghai Province. In addition to placing a dollar value on the goods and services the natural landscape provides, the report highlights the importance of improved conservation and management efforts to billions of people across Asia. Please click here
to download the report.