An urgent call to protect the world’s “Third Pole” | Tshering Tobgay

An urgent call to protect the world’s “Third Pole” | Tshering Tobgay

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. (Laughter) 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. 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. And if current trends were to continue, a full two-thirds
of our glaciers would vanish. Number three: global warming means that our mountains
receive more rain and less snow … and, unlike snowfall, rain melts ice, which just hurts
the health of our glaciers. Number four: pollution in the region has increased
the amount of black carbon that’s deposited on our glaciers. Black carbon is like soot. Black carbon absorbs heat and just accelerates
the melting of glaciers. To summarize, our glaciers are melting rapidly, and global warming is making them
melt much more quickly. But what does this mean? It means that the 240 million people who live in the Hindu Kush
Himalaya region — in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India,
China, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and my own beloved country, Bhutan — these people will be directly affected. When glaciers melt, when there’s more rain and less snow, there will be huge changes
in the way water behaves. There will be more extremes: more intense rain,
more flash floods, more landslides, more glacial lake outburst floods. All this will cause
unimaginable destruction in a region that already has
some of the poorest people on earth. 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. (Applause)

Comments (16)

  1. Human life costs nothing today, animals life even less, so whats the incentive to fix the climate?

  2. There hasn't been any warming since 1998 and in fact there has been cooling for the two last years. They don't all it global warming anymore; now it's climate change. We are in an inter glacial warming period.

  3. Here is the solution:

    "Do no more children for 1/4 of a century and you will solve almost all your problems,
    do not have children for 1/2 century and you will solve all your problems without exception."
    This is an absolute truth.

  4. It's sad, but it's true 🙁 Most people don't care about others. Especially if it doesn't touch them directly. I am European and I really would like everyone to help by himself. Especially real govermental actions.
    God Bless Asia,
    and God bless the whole humanity

  5. In short: we're fucked!! unless India,China and Pakistan work together, oh!! that seems hopeful isn't it

  6. 92 dislikes by trump's agent

  7. A leader leads by an example and Bhutan is a leader who itself is carbon negative and telling others to do the same. Proud of Bhutan with such great people that care about Nature. We don't care until we are personally affected that is the truth. We need to start working together and save the forests.

  8. Excellent Mr.PM Tshering Tobgay wish India had leader like you. Thanks

  9. Just once in his TED talk, Mr. Tobgay mentioned the real problem… 240,000,000 people living in a region that might reasonably support 40,000,000. 7 billion people living on a planet that might reasonably support 1 billion.

  10. Region not crying for help
    Region shouting save ur lives
    Otherwise hastla Vista

  11. Wow this was useless fear mongering. Thanks again TED

  12. Did u hear what he said ?
    We must come together, only together we can. 💯

  13. Why did President Mohamed Rasheed give the go-ahead for a new airport if the Maldives are going to be under the sea?

  14. Any ideas how we make this go viral. Edit: anybody knows any good charities

  15. I'm a tob-gay, too.

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