China pledges $2 billion for Tibet environment

BEIJING, March 6 (Reuters) - China has pledged to spend 15 billion yuan ($2.19 billion) over two decades to protect the environment in Tibet, which is at serious risk from global warming, the official China Daily reported on Friday.

The cash would fund projects to preserve grasslands, woods and wetland, protect endangered animals, grow "forest shelter belts" to protect against gales, and expand clean energy, the paper quoted the region's governor, Qiangba Puncog, as saying.

It was not clear if the "Ecological Protection Plan of Tibet" covered a series of hydropower projects planned for the region's rivers, which are the source for many of Asia's great waterways.

Environmentalists oppose the dams which they say will threaten the region's fragile ecology.

Scientists say the rivers are already at risk from climate change because warmer weather is shrinking the glaciers that feed them. Glaciers around Mount Everest, which spans Tibet and Nepal, have shrunk 170 metres in the past decade.

Temperatures in high-altitude Tibet rose by 0.32 degrees Celsius every 10 years between 1961 and 2007, above the world and national averages for the same period, the China Daily said.

The effects of global warming on the varied and complex mountain landscape appeared to be mixed, experts said last year.

In Tibet's west, there was a clear trend to a hotter and drier climate, turning grasslands into desert.

But in Tibet's centre and east, climate change so far appeared to be bringing a warmer, wetter climate that was filling, rather than shrinking, lakes. ($1=6.840 Yuan) (Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Nick Macfie)