Real World Protection for the “Third Pole” and Its People

  • Nakul Chettri
  • Arun B. Shrestha
  • Yan Zhaoli
  • Birendra Bajracharya
  • Eklabya Sharma
  • Hua Ouyang


The Tibetan Plateau, which encompasses a vast area in Asia (the majority of southeast and southwest China including the Tibetan Autonomous Region), northwestern Bhutan, northern Nepal, and northwestern India), is one of the most diverse and important landmasses in the Northern Hemisphere. Being the source of ten major rivers of Asia and having the greatest mass of snow outside the polar regions, the Tibetan Plateau and its adjoining mountain ranges are well known as the “water towers” of Asia, sometimes even referred to as “the Third Pole.” The region is also known for its rich flora and fauna, with a high proportion of endemism and habitat for some of the most charismatic species such as snow leopard (Uncia uncia), brown bear (Ursus arctos pruinosus), and giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and red panda (Ailurus fulgens), as well as numerous ungulates. The region is also home to thousands of ethnic communities with a rich culture, who are predominantly transhumant pastoralists and migratory herders. However, in recent decades, there has been growing concern about the deteriorating conditions of the vast pastureland and the freshwater resources – the source of livelihood for millions of people as well as habitats for thousands of species. The drivers of such changes are multiple, but the most pressing challenge is the phenomenon of global climate change. Although the region witnessed various cooling and warming phases in past millennia, the rate of recent warming is suggested to be dramatic. Moreover, warming in the Tibetan Plateau has caused significant impacts on its cryospheric components, thereby causing a multitude of impacts on the environment. Here we analyze the importance of the Tibetan Plateau and its adjoining mountain ranges in terms of biodiversity, water resources, and the challenges faced by the vast majority of local people resulting from the effects of changing climate on their subsistence livelihoods.


Tibetan Plateau United Nations Environment Programme Giant Panda Snow Leopard High Mountain Area 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We express our gratitude to the Director General of ICIMOD, Dr. Andreas Schild, for his inspiration and for providing the required facilities for the preparation of this paper. Falk Huettmann guided us right from the inception of this paper, and we are indebted for his guidance and support. Mr. Kabir Uddin from ICIMOD supported in analyzing the protected areas and Important Bird Areas and for preparation of maps.


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Copyright information

© Springer 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nakul Chettri
    • 1
  • Arun B. Shrestha
    • 1
  • Yan Zhaoli
    • 1
  • Birendra Bajracharya
    • 1
  • Eklabya Sharma
    • 1
  • Hua Ouyang
    • 1
  1. 1.International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)Khumaltar, Lalitpur, KathmanduNepal

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