Climate change, water rights deeply interlinked globally: Buddhist leader

12th Gyalwang Drukpa
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By Vishal Gulati

New Delhi– Climate change and water rights are deeply inter-connected, globally. Seasons seem to be inverting in the Himalayas where you see snow in summer and entire villages that have existed for generations have had to relocate because of water-pattern changes.

That is the wisdom on offer from Buddhist leader and active environmentalist — the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa — the spiritual head of the 800-year-old Drukpa Order based in the Himalayas with around 1,000 monastic centres.

“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,” he told IANS in an interview.

12th Gyalwang Drukpa
12th Gyalwang Drukpa

On the ongoing high-level United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakech in Morocco, he candidly admitted he didn’t know the scientific answer to studies that strongly indicate the Hindu Kush, a mountain range extending west of the Himalayas, would be warmer.

The spiritual leader said: “The community that I represent has extensive anecdotal evidence on climate change.”

“For example, in Ladakh, 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,” he observed.

“One glimmer of hope that I have is that the local communities in the Himalayas are taking action,” said the Buddhist leader, also known as the “Guardian of the Himalayas”.

“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.”

Advocating the need to revisit the traditional way of life, the maroon-robed monk said: “There is a lot of green wisdom in traditional lifestyles. For example, the Druk Padma Karpo School (near Leh) incorporated both cutting-edge modern technology and traditional know-how to create one of the greenest schools in Asia.

“This is a great time to marry modern technology with ancient wisdom to tackle today’s challenges,” he advocated.

The Buddhist leader admitted the ongoing climate talks are of particular importance for both the developing and developed countries.

“I often think that climate change is an opportunity for countries to build bridges and to collaborate,” said the 54-year-old Gyalwang Drukpa, who heads the 17th century Hemis monastery, some 40 km from Leh town in Jammu and Kashmir.

Gyalwang Drukpa, recipient of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Award, in a message to the global leaders said: “Despite all of our differences, we all share the same values of wanting a clean, green and economically thriving world.”

“I would encourage the participants to view their differences as strength and not something that divides them. Diversity of thought and background only makes problem-solving more robust and dynamic.”

Gyalwang Drukpa, who is associated with the Earth Awards Selection Committee that recognises viable innovations that improve the quality of life, said the Paris Climate Change Agreement that entered into force on November 4 is important to every country.

Just two months after the flash floods that devastated Ladakh in 2010, the Drukpa Order, with around 9,000 volunteers, planted 50,033 willow saplings in 33 minutes and 25 seconds over 112,000 square yards.

According to the spiritual leader, planting trees is not only impactful but also an important gesture.

In a message, he said: “I hope that countries that are home to the Himalayas will collaborate on protecting the water sources of the Himalayas. This is a trans-boundary problem that affects several different religious groups, ethnic groups, countries and terrain.”

The twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) and the 12th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12) will be held in Marrakech till November 18.


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