THE RISE OF the Tibetan Plateau in western China caused a major worldwide climate shift. As the highest region on Earth, this area became the world's third major weather-maker, after the polar regions, and gave rise to the South Asia Monsoon about 8 million years ago. The growth of the plateau also set the stage for the ice ages that began approximately 2.5 million years ago. Glacial deposits, lake strand-lines, paleo-biologic studies, and ice core records now available from the Tibetan Plateau are filling a critical gap in comparing the Asian mid-latitude climate record with the more extensive records from other continents and the polar regions.
During historic times, China has undergone significant climate shifts, some natural, others most likely anthropogenic. Although desertification has been ongoing in China for perhaps 3,000 years, at least some of this has been attributed to human activities. The recent rapid retreat of China's glaciers appears to be linked to global warming. Although the Chinese government places its highest priority on economic growth, it also appears to be taking anthropogenic climate change very seriously.
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