Tibet's fragile environment is being damaged by a paucity of energy, as well as by pollutants and litter (see Nature 512, 240–241; 2014). Greater investment could unleash the region's huge potential to produce renewable energy.

Access to fossil fuels is extremely limited in Tibet, particularly in rural areas. Biomass — including manure, firewood and crop residues — is largely used instead, making up two-thirds of total energy use. However, this degrades forest and grassland and causes indoor pollution (see G. Liu et al. Renew. Sust. Energ. Rev. 12, 1890–1908; 2008).

Tibet has abundant resources for renewable energy (including solar, wind and geothermal) owing to its complex topography and widely varying climate (see L. Shen et al. Environ. Manage. 46, 539–554; 2010).

These resources remain mostly untapped, however, because of the high cost of exploitation, unevenly distributed settlements, lack of local infrastructure, and inadequate maintenance and knowledge.