Adaptation by Herders on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in Response to Climate Change and Policy Reforms: The Implications for Carbon Sequestration and Livelihoods

  • Haiying Feng
  • Melissa Nursey-Bray


There are changes in livelihood strategies of five Tibetan herder communities in the face of climate change and government policies such as adjustments to use rights and restricted herder mobility. Data collection relied on a mixed-method approach, including household surveys and rural rapid appraisals (PRA). Results indicated that yak husbandry is the main source of livelihood and households have a restricted range of livelihood activities. Major coping strategies varied with production system and resource availability and options for mobility of herds. The perception of a majority of respondents was that land tenure reforms had led to creation of more bureaucracies, forced sedentarization, livelihood insecurity, collapse of pastoral adaptation, poverty, resource use conflicts and hindrance to long-term planning and permanent developments. There is need to amend strategies that threaten the environment and instead promote integration of community best practices initiatives in proven concepts of adaptation to climate change and livelihood vulnerability.


Yaks Livelihoods Ophiocordyceps sinensis Climate change Carbon sequestration Local ecological knowledge Climate variability Sedentarization Resettlement Adaptation 



HYF is a Research Fellow in the School of Social Sciences, University of Adelaide, Australia and support during her term in the University of Adelaide is much appreciated. One of us (HYF) is a recipient of The National Social Science Fund of China Project: “Grassland degradation and herder sustainable livelihood in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau”(Grant number:17BMZ106). The cooperation of herders in five communities is greatly appreciated as is help from local Bureau officials in Qinghai and in the Tibet Autonomous region.


  1. Arbuckle, J.G., L. Wright Morton, and J. Hobbs. 2015. Understanding farmer perspectives on climate change adaptation and mitigation: The roles of trust in sources of climate information, climate change beliefs and perceived risk. Environment and Behaviour 47 (2): 205–234.Google Scholar
  2. Arvai, J., G. Bridge, N. Dolsak, et al. 2006. Adaptive management of the global climate problem: Bridging the gap between climate research and climate policy. Climatic Change 78 (1): 215–225.Google Scholar
  3. Behnke, R.H., I. Scoones, and C. Kerven. 1993. Range ecology at disequilibrium: New models of natural variability and pastoral adaptation in African Savannas. London: Overseas Development Institute.Google Scholar
  4. Bhave, A.J., D. Conway, S. Dessai, et al. 2016. Barriers and opportunities for robust decision making approaches to support climate change adaptation in the developing world. Climate Risk Management 14: 1–10.Google Scholar
  5. Biagini, B., R. Bierbaum, M. Stults, et al. 2014. A typology of adaptation actions: A global look at climate adaptation actions financed through the Global Environmental Facility. Global Environmental Change 25: 97–108.Google Scholar
  6. Burnham, M., and Z. Ma. 2018. Multi-scalar pathways to smallholder adaptation. World Development 108: 249–262.Google Scholar
  7. Chen, H., Q. Zhu, C. Peng, et al. 2013. The impacts of climate change and human activities on biogeochemical cycles on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Global Change Biology 19: 2940–2955.Google Scholar
  8. Chen, J., S. Yin, H. Gebhardt, et al. 2018. Farmers’ livelihood adaptation to environmental change in an arid region: A case study of the Minqin Oasis, northwestern China. Ecological Indicators 93: 411–423.Google Scholar
  9. De Haan, C., ed. 2016. Prospects for livestock-based livelihoods in Africa’s dry lands. World Bank Studies. Washington, DC: World Bank.Google Scholar
  10. Dessai, S., and M. Hulme. 2007. Assessing the robustness of adaptation decisions to climate change uncertainties: A case-study on water resources management in the East of England. Global Environmental Change 17 (1): 59–72.Google Scholar
  11. Du, F. 2012. Ecological resettlement of Tibetan herders in the Sanjiangyuan: A case study in Madoi county of Qinghai. Nomadic Peoples 16 (12): 116–133.Google Scholar
  12. Dupuis, J., and G.R. Biesbroek. 2013. Comparing apples and oranges: The dependent variable problem in comparing and evaluating climate change adaptation policies. Global Environmental Change 23 (6): 1476–1487.Google Scholar
  13. Eisenack, K., and R. Stecker. 2012. A framework for analyzing climate change adaptation as actions. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 17: 243–260.Google Scholar
  14. Ellis, F. 1998. Household strategies and rural livelihood diversification. The Journal of Development Studies 35 (1): 1–38.Google Scholar
  15. Fratkin, E. 1997. Pastoralism: Governance and development issues. Annual Review of Anthropology 26: 235–261.Google Scholar
  16. Ha-Duong, M., R. Swart, L. Bernstein, et al. 2007. Uncertainty management in the IPCC: Agreeing to disagree. Global Environmental Change 17 (1): 8–11.Google Scholar
  17. Haynes, M.A., K.J.S. Kung, J.S. Brandt, et al. 2014. Accelerated climate change and its potential impact on Yak herding livelihoods in the eastern Tibetan plateau. Climatic Change 123 (2): 147–160.Google Scholar
  18. Hua, L.M., and V. Squires. 2015. Managing China’s pastoral lands: Current problems and future prospects. Land Use Policy 43: 129–135.Google Scholar
  19. IPCC. 2012. In Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation. A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed. C.B. Field, V. Barros, T.F. Stocker, et al., 582. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Kang, S., Y. Xu, Q.You, et al. 2010. Review of climate and cryospheric change in the Tibetan Plateau. Env Res Lett 5(1).Google Scholar
  21. Klein, J.A., K. Hopping, E. Yeh, et al. 2014. Unexpected climate impacts on the Tibetan Plateau: Local and scientific knowledge in findings of delayed summer. Global Environmental Change 28: 141–162.Google Scholar
  22. Lesnikowski, A., J. Ford, L. Berrang-Ford, et al. 2013. Adapting to health impacts of climate change: A study of UNFCCC Annex I parties. Environmental Research Letters 6 (4): 044009.Google Scholar
  23. Li, C., Y. Tang, H. Luo, et al. 2013. Local farmers’ perception of climate change and local adaptive strategies: A case study from the middle Yarlung Zangbo River Valley, Tibet, China. Environmental Management 52: 894–906.Google Scholar
  24. Li, L., S. Yang, Z. Wang, X. Zhu, and H. Tang, 2010. Evidence of warming and wetting climate over the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Arct Antarct Alp Res 42, 449–457. Scholar
  25. Liang, Y., Ganjurjav, W.N. Zhang, et al. 2014. A review on effect of climate change on grassland ecosystem in China. Journal of Agricultural Science & Technology 16 (2): 1–8.Google Scholar
  26. Ma, Y., Y. Wang, and X. Wang. 2014. Classification of the snow disasters and circulation features of the blizzard in Altay region, China. Journal of Arid Land Resources and Environment 28 (8): 120–124.Google Scholar
  27. Mi, Z., Y. Wei, C. He, et al. 2017. Regional efforts to mitigate climate change in China: A multi criteria assessment approach. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 22: 45–66.Google Scholar
  28. Michalk, D., L. Hua, D. Kemp, et al. 2010. Redesigning livestock systems to improve household income and reduce stocking rates in China’s western grasslands. In Towards sustainable use of rangelands in North-west China, ed. V.R. Squires, L.M. Hua, D.G. Zhang, et al., 301–324. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  29. Mishra, C., S. Bagchi, T. Namgail, et al. 2010. Multiple use of Trans-Himalayan rangelands: Reconciling human livelihoods with wildlife conservation. In Wild rangelands: Conserving wildlife while maintaining livestock in semi-arid ecosystems, vol. 6, 291–311. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  30. Owusu, M., M. Nursey-Bray, and D. Rudd. 2019. Gendered perception and vulnerability to climate change in urban slum communities in Accra, Ghana. Regional Environmental Change 19 (1): 13–25.Google Scholar
  31. Petit, M. 2005. Scientific uncertainties and climate risks. Comptes Rendus Geoscience 337: 393–398.Google Scholar
  32. Qiu, J. 2008. China: The third pole. Nature 454 (7203): 393–396.Google Scholar
  33. Rashid, H., S. Robert, and A. Neville. 2005. Mountain systems. In Ecosystems and human well-being: Current state and trends. Millennium ecosystem assessment, 681–716. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  34. Roder, W., G. Gratzer, and K. Wangdi. 2002. Cattle grazing in the conifer forests of Bhutan. Mountain Research and Development 22: 1–7.Google Scholar
  35. Scoones, I. 1994. Living with uncertainty: New directions in pastoral development in Africa. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.Google Scholar
  36. Shang, Z.H., Q. Dong, A. Degen, et al. 2016. Ecological restoration in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau: Problems strategies and prospects. In Ecological restoration: Global challenges, social aspects and environmental benefits, ed. Victor Squires, 151–176. New York: NOVA Science Publishers.Google Scholar
  37. Shang, Z.H., R. Zhang, A. Degen, et al. 2017. Rangelands and grasslands in the Tibetan Plateau of China: Ecological structure and function at the top of the world. In Rangelands along the Silk Road: Transformative adaptations under climate and global change, ed. Victor R. Squires, Zhanhuan Shang, and Ali Ariapour, 65–102. New York: NOVA Science Publishers.Google Scholar
  38. Shen, M., S. Piao, T. Dorji, et al. 2015. Plant phenological responses to climate change on the Tibetan Plateau: Research status and challenges. National Science Review 2 (4): 454–467.Google Scholar
  39. Shreshtha, S. 1994. Evolution of mountain farming systems. In: Proceedings of the FAO/ICIMOD Seminar at Lumle, Pokhara, Nepal. International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).Google Scholar
  40. Smit, B., and M.W. Skinner. 2002. Adaptation options in agriculture to climate change: a typology. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 7: 85–114.Google Scholar
  41. Squires, V.R. 2012. Rangeland Stewardship in Central Asia: Balancing livelihoods, biodiversity conservation and land protection. Springer: DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  42. Squires, V.R., and L.M. Hua. 2015. On the failure to control overgrazing and land degradation in China’s pastoral lands: Implications for policy and for the research agenda. In Rangeland ecology, management and conservation benefits, ed. Victor R. Squires, 19–42. New York: NOVA Science Publishers.Google Scholar
  43. Tashi, G., and M. Foggin. 2012. Resettlement as development and progress? Eight years on. Review of emerging social and development impacts of an ecological resettlement project in Tibet Autonomous region. Nomadic Peoples 16 (1): 134–151.Google Scholar
  44. Tulachan, P.M., and A. Neupane. 1999. Livestock in mixed farming systems of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas: Trends and sustainability. Kathmandu, Nepal: International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).Google Scholar
  45. Vitousek, P.M. 1994. Beyond global warming: ecology and global change. Ecology 75 (7): 1862–1876.Google Scholar
  46. Wang, X.M., F.G. Liu, Q. Zhou, et al. 2006. On the formation reasons of eco-refugee from a geography perspective in the source region of Yellow river, Lancang river and Yangtze river. Ecological Economy 9: 131–134.Google Scholar
  47. Wangchuk, K., D. Karma, and L. Ugyen. 2006. Crushing the bone: Minimizing grazing conflicts in community Tsamdro—A case study from Dhur Village. Bumthang, Bhutan: Choekhor Geog.Google Scholar
  48. Wangchuk, K., M. Wurzinger, A. Darabant, et al. 2014. The changing face of cattle raising and forest grazing in the Bhutan Himalaya. Mountain Research and Development 34 (2): 131–138.Google Scholar
  49. Xu, K., J. D. Milliman, and H. Xu, 2010. Temporal trend of precipitation and runoff in major Chinese Rivers since 1951. Global Planet Change 73: 219–232. Scholar
  50. Yang, Y.H., J.Y. Fang, Y.D. Pan, et al. 2009. Above ground biomass in Tibetan grasslands. Journal of Arid Environment 73 (1): 91–95.Google Scholar
  51. Zhao, H.D., S.L. Liu, S.K. Dong, et al. 2015. Analysis of vegetation change associated with human disturbance using MODIS data on the rangelands of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. The Rangeland Journal 37: 77–87.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Haiying Feng
    • 1
  • Melissa Nursey-Bray
    • 2
  1. 1.Research Institute for Qinzhou DevelopmentBeibu Gulf UniversityQinzhouChina
  2. 2.Department of Geography, Environment and PopulationUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

Personalised recommendations