I move the motion:
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) the Tibetan Plateau is:
(i) the largest source of freshwater beyond the Arctic and Antarctic;
(ii) a major driver of the global climate;
(iii) the source of most of Asia's major rivers; and
(iv) an area of great significance to the global environment; and
(b) traditional nomadic herding has provided Tibetans with resilient livelihoods and ensured the health of Tibetan grasslands, including maintaining biodiversity and soil carbon;
(2) expresses concern that:
(a) Tibetan nomads are leaving the grasslands and that their displacement will have harmful impacts on their livelihood and culture as well as on Tibet's fragile environment; and
(b) construction of large dams and water diversion projects in the headwater regions will impact the environment and the livelihood of millions of people in the region;
(3) notes China's many positive steps towards addressing the challenges of climate change, including reducing dependence on coal; and
(4) calls for acknowledgement of the:
(a) important role Tibetan nomads play in ensuring the health of Tibetan grasslands; and
(b) importance of Tibetans having a say over decisions that affect their land and livelihoods.
As the chair of the Australian All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet, I am delighted to welcome a delegation of our Tibetan friends led by the Australian Tibet Council. Over the next two days, they will present a very strong case to the parliament and the government: firstly, that Tibet is central to many of the great challenges of our time, from climate change to inequity and to food and water security; secondly, that Australia and the international community cannot afford to ignore what is happening in Tibet and, in part, to the Tibetan Plateau environment; and, thirdly, that the Tibetan people must be part of the solution in addressing the environmental crisis that is unfolding in Tibet.
As the largest source of fresh water beyond the Arctic and the Antarctic, and the source of most of Asia's major rivers, what happens in the Tibetan Plateau has far-reaching ramifications for the region and the world at large.
According to Tibet – An Environmental Challenge, released ahead of the UN climate summit last year, China has been building dams of a staggering scale at an extraordinary rate. By 2000, China had built 22,104 large dams. By 2010, it had installed 220 gigawatts of hydropower—nearly 60 times the generating capacity of the Snowy Mountains scheme. With the middle and lower courses of its rivers already heavily dammed, the only way for China to reach target capacity is to begin heavily damming the rivers in Tibet. As with large hydropower projects the world over, local communities bear the brunt of these controversial projects and reap few, if any, of the benefits.
The Chinese government has an even more controversial plan for Tibetan rivers. The next stage of China's south-north water diversion project, while still on the drawing board, will divert water from the upper reaches of the Yangtze to the Yellow River, defying the country's physical geography. These proposed plans pose questions of water sovereignty, the likes of which the world has never seen before.
By controlling the Tibetan Plateau, China has control of Asia's water tap and seems ready to use that power with little regard for the needs of its neighbours. Just as Australia pays close attention to China's activities in the South China Sea, we should also be aware of the developments on the rivers that originate from Tibet and flow into many Asian countries.
Today, I would also like to draw attention to another misguided policy of the Chinese government in Tibet: the forced removal of Tibetan nomads from their grasslands. Only a few years ago, Chinese authorities had reportedly moved over two million Tibetans from their homes on grasslands to newly constructed settlements, profoundly altering Tibet's social and economic fabric. The policy is as self-defeating as it is unjust.
Stripped of the livelihoods that have sustained them for thousands of years, a once proud and resilient people now face a very uncertain future. While carried out on the grounds of environmental protection, the controversial policy has further compromised the ecological balance of the Tibetan Plateau. The Chinese government has tried to obscure the effects of its relocation policies by heavily restricting access to media and refusing to allow independent fact-finding missions.
At a meeting with the Chinese ambassador in Canberra two years ago, I asked him about the worsening human rights conditions in Tibet. The ambassador extended an invitation to me and Australian parliamentarians to visit Tibet in order to form well-informed opinions. The Australian All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet quickly put out a request to the Chinese embassy to facilitate a trip to Tibet. Two years on, we are still waiting for a response.
In another example, just last week the Chinese authorities announced that the Tibet Autonomous Region will be completely closed to foreign tourists until the end of March, with all foreigners being asked to leave. This annual sealing of Tibet takes place ahead of the Tibetan national uprising day on 10 March.
Our Tibetan friends visiting parliament this week will be asking MPs and senators to call on the Chinese government to end the forced removal of Tibetan nomads and allow former nomads who wish to return to their traditional rangelands to do so, to ensure Tibetans are given a greater say in the decisions that affect their land and livelihoods. I support their call and urge my fellow parliamentarians to join me in supporting the Tibetans' plea to help save their fragile land and their unique way of life.