July 7, 2006

Tibet: First Rail Line into Tibet Opens With Environmental Warnings

With the opening of the new railway line, WWF and its wildlife trafficking monitoring arm, TRAFFIC, are calling for conservation measures to protect the world's largest and highest plateau
With the opening of the new railway line through the Tibetan Plateau on Saturday, and the increased number of travelers expected to visit the area as a result, WWF and its wildlife trafficking monitoring arm, TRAFFIC, are calling for conservation measures to protect the world's largest and highest plateau.

Billed as the highest railway in the world, the final stretch of the Qinghai-Tibet rail line opened Saturday, running over 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from central China to the Tibetan capital Lhasa. Environmental groups are concerned that the railway will threaten delicate ecosystems.

"Because of its high elevation, the ecosystem here is extremely fragile," said Dawa Tsering, who heads WWF China's Program Office in Lhasa.
With an average elevation of 4,000 meters (13,120 feet), the Tibetan Plateau is still inhabited by unique species, including the Tibetan antelope or chiru, the Tibetan gazelle, wild yak, blue sheep, snow leopard, brown bear, Bengal tiger and black-necked crane.

The plateau is the source of many of Asia's major rivers - the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong and Indus rivers.

"Once damaged, it is extremely difficult to reverse," said Tsering. "Integrating the needs of local development with conserving Tibet's biodiversity is in need of urgent attention."
Chinese scientists have suggested that within 10 years global warming may start to melt the permafrost on which the railway rests, endangering the $4.1 billion line.

On Saturday, Chinese President Hu Jintao attended the launching ceremony of the Qinghai-Tibet railway at the Golmud Railway Station in Golmud, northwest China's Qinghai Province.

A former Chinese Communist Party (CPC) chief of Tibet, Hu now serves as general secretary of the CPC's Central Committee and chairs the Central Military Commission.
Saturday marked the 85th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of China, and Hu emphasized the construction of this railway over difficult terrain as a major CPC accomplishment.

During his send-off speech in Golmud, President Hu stressed the importance of environmental protection of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
Hu said railway workers and passengers traveling on the Qinghai-Tibet railway should "consciously treasure waters and mountains as well as grass and woods on the Plateau, and they should help conserve the ecosystem and environment along the railway."