Gyalwang Drukpa Warns of Climate Change Threat to Himalayan Water Sources
His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa has voiced concern over the growing impact on water rights—particularly in Himalayan communities—stemming from climate change, observing that aberrant weather patterns and seasonal changes are increasingly affecting water movements in the Himalayas and, by extension, a significant proportion of the word’s population. The Himalayan region, sometimes referred to as the Earth’s “third pole” provides water to almost half of the world’s population and has been disproportionately affected by global warming, which has impacted glaciers and precipitation patterns.
“The community that I represent has extensive anecdotal evidence on climate change,” His Holiness said in a recent interview in which he emphasized the importance of ongoing climate talks for developing and developed countries alike. “Climate change deeply affects water patterns, water quality, and water rights. Changes in water quality, patterns, and access to water are symptoms of climate change and are the first things to affect entire communities.” (Business Standard)
The Gyalwang Drukpa’s concerns come as 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference, the 22nd conference of the parties (COP22) to be held under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is underway in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, running from 7–18 November. The agenda for COP22 includes determining actionable ways in which the objectives of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which went into force on 4 November, can be achieved, as well as acting as a platform for related negotiations.
“In Ladakh, [in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir,] we are seeing unprecedented weather phenomenon, like cloudbursts. Seasons seem to be inverting—where you see snow in summer, and entire villages that have existed for countless generations have had to relocate because water-pattern changes,” said His Holiness. “One glimmer of hope that I have is that the local communities in the Himalayas are taking action. Many villages are participating in my joint initiative with the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Himalayan Glacier Waterkeepers, where communities monitor the quality of water with an aim to protect the waters of Ladakh and the Himalayas.” (Business Standard)
The Gyalwang Drukpa urged the wider adoption of traditional ways of life in concert with modern scientific knowledge. “This is a great time to marry modern technology with ancient wisdom to tackle today’s challenges. There is a lot of green wisdom in traditional lifestyles,” he noted. “For example, the Druk Padma Karpo School [near the town of Leh] incorporated both cutting-edge modern technology and traditional know-how to create one of the greenest schools in Asia.” (Business Standard)
His Holiness the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, Jigme Pema Wangchen, born in 1963, is the spiritual head of the Drukpa lineage of Vajrayana Buddhism. A renowned humanitarian, educator, environmentalist, and an active proponent of gender equality, the Gyalwang Drukpa has initiated a host of social engagement programs and initiatives, including the Live to Love international humanitarian organization, aiming to address contemporary social and environmental issues through the compassionate application of Buddhist teachings and philosophy.
Live to Love sponsors numerous of projects related to environmental protection and sustainability, including organizing an annual “Eco Pad Yatra,” in which hundreds of volunteers undertake a pilgrimage on foot over hundreds of kilometers, collecting plastic waste. In 2010, His Holiness launched an initiative to plant 1 million trees in Ladakh, under which in October 2012 more than 9,800 volunteers planted nearly 100,000 trees. In September 2013, the Gyalwang Drukpa was named “The Guardian of the Himalayas” by the Waterkeeper Alliance.
“I often think that climate change is an opportunity for countries to build bridges and to collaborate,” His Holiness said. “Despite all of our differences, we all share the same values of wanting a clean, green, and economically thriving world. I hope that countries that are home to the Himalayas will collaborate on protecting the water sources of the Himalayas.” (Business Standard)
Founded in Tibet in 1206 by Drogon Tsangpa Gyare Yeshi Dorje (1161–1211), the first Gyalwang Drukpa, the Drukpa lineage is a branch of the Kagyu school of Himalayan Buddhism. Along with the Sakya and Gelug schools, the Kagyu tradition is classified as one of the Sarma or “New Transmission” schools. The Drukpa lineage is also the dominant school of Buddhism and the state religion in the Kingdom of Bhutan.
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