PROTECTING THE THIRD POLE: Transplanting International Law.

AuthorWaters, Graeme

PROTECTING THE THIRD POLE: Transplanting International Law

Author: Simon Marsden

Published by: Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, 2019, 328pp, 95 [pounds sterling].

Ever heard of the Third Pole? Me neither, but then again neither had Simon Marsden until seven years back. A professor of law at the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom, he has now written several papers and books on the subject. He describes this one as the completion of his 'Asian international environmental law trilogy'. Think of our planet as having two very large ice caps, top and bottom, and another around the Hindu Kush Himalayas and Tibetan plateau-- that is, the Third Pole. Developments there really do affect the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people --by one measure, a fifth of humanity.

Altogether, sixteen different countries are linked to the Third Pole by dint of either having territory in it or being dependent on the rivers that flow from the annual ice melt. China and India are the two territorial heavy weights, but do not forget Pakistan. All three are nuclear-armed and have been at war over territory in the region. Bhutan and Nepal have the distinction of lying wholly within the Third Pole. Afghanistan and Tajikistan link central Asia. The list of famous rivers includes the Indus, the Mekong, the Irrawaddy, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. Downstream countries thus include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. From the Tibetan plateau, the Yangtze and Yellow rivers flow into China.

The very large population inhabiting the Third Pole makes it rather different in character to the other poles. Depending on your precise definition, some 240 million people can be counted within the environs of the Third Pole. Chinese proposals for a Third Pole National Park have been limited to Tibetan territory, and Marsden notes that India refused to take part in a survey. The Third Pole shows evidence of global warming and environmental degradation, notably from air pollution and other human activity. Tourism and extractive industries can be problematic, and both China and India have been prolific dam builders. Promoting sustainable development ranks highly in Marsden's calculus. He looks at the need to protect rivers and mountains while dealing with the 'energy trilemma'--how to reconcile energy security, equity and environmental sustainability.

To deal with all the issues, argues Marsden, there will need to be a legal framework...

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