Yellow River at Risk

Climate change could cut off China’s mother river at source

Press release - 10 October, 2005
Scientists say a catalogue of environmental damage linked to climate change is pushing the Yellow River source region into an ecological breakdown, in a new survey commissioned by Greenpeace.

Top Picture *Composite Picture - 1981 Halong Glacier, Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. ©1981 – by courtesy of Professor Dr. Matthias Kuhle.Bottom Picture - 2005 Halong Glacier, Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.A Greenpeace team visited the HalongGlaciers in the A’nyêmaqên Mountains, Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, to document the retreating glaciers in the region. Greenpeace found during the past 30 years, the glaciers of the Yellow River source region have shrunk by 17%. This could leave the region without glaciers by the end of the century and is an alarming sign of climate impact on the source of China's mother river- the Yellow River.

The study ‘Yellow River at Risk’, written by an Institute within the Chinese Academy of Sciences describes a chain reaction of environmental impacts, driven by increased temperatures on the Tibetan Plateau, which threaten the source of the Yellow River (1). It concludes that the widespread environmental decline is ultimately destroying the river basin’s water holding capacity, drying out the region and cutting off the lifeblood of the river.

Professor Liu Shiyin, the leading author of the report, said: “Climate change is at the root of the problem. Higher temperatures and drier climate due to global warming are melting the glaciers and permafrost, draining the lakes and leading to land degradation; from here it is a domino effect that harms the flora, fauna, landscape and people of the Yellow River source region – and ultimately the river itself.”

Greenpeace China Climate Change Researcher, Li Mo Xuan said: “Climate change is wreaking havoc at the birthplace of the China’s mother river. The plight of the Yellow River is a grave warning. Millions of people are at risk from climate change and the world must act now to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. If we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, there is not a moment to lose.”

In the last 30 years, the region has lost 17% of its glaciers and the rate of melting ice is now 10 times faster than it has been for the previous 300 years. The Greenpeace study identifies further problems linked to climate change including: dried lakes, advancing deserts, subsidence from melted permafrost, soil erosion and threatened species such as the Tibetan Lynx and Snow Leopard.

Due to its particular hydrology, the Yellow River is very sensitive to even small changes in its water supply. Over 120 million people rely on the Yellow River ‘s water for domestic as well as agricultural and industrial uses. The river’s source region plays the major role in supplying the whole river basin, providing 55.6% of the water for the length of the river above the city of Lanzhou, about 550 km from the Yellow River’s source.

Professor Liu said, “Water shortage and reduced runoff at the source will have far-reaching impacts upon the economy, society and people’s life, not only in the source region, but in the middle and low reaches of the Yellow River.”

Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organisation that uses non-violent creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems to force solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.

Other contacts: Li Mo Xuan, Greenpeace Climate Campaigner and expedition leader: + 86 1501166821 Natalia Truchi,Greenpeace International Media Officer: + 86 13910098563

VVPR info: Photos of climate change effects on the Tibetan Plateau (including historical and present day glacial retreat comparisons) captured during the expedition are available from John Novis, Greenpeace International Photo Editor +31 653 81 91 21 The study ‘Yellow River at Risk’ can be found at

Notes: (1) In June 2005, Greenpeace led an expedition to the Tibetan Plateau to document the climate change impacts identified in the study. This qualitative investigation reinforced the scientists’ findings with extensive documentary evidence.