By Andrew MacAskill
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Tibet's exiled leaders, including the Dalai Lama, said on Tuesday two-thirds of the glaciers in their mountain homeland may disappear by 2050 because of climate change and demanded a stake in international climate talks later this year.
The Tibetan plateau, which has the largest store of ice outside the North and South Pole, has experienced rising temperatures of 1.3 Celsius over the past five decades, three times the global average, the leadership said in a statement.
Tibet, with an average altitude of over 4,000 meters (13,125 ft) is particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Warming is already melting glaciers that are the source of water in rivers that help support about 1.3 billion people.
"The Tibetan Plateau needs to be protected, not just for Tibetans but for the environmental health and sustainability of the entire world," the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, said.
"As vital as the Arctic and Antarctic, it is the Third Pole," he said in the statement issued from the Indian hill station of Dharamsala, where the Tibetan government-in-exile has been based since the Dalai Lama fled his homeland in 1959.
Close to 200 countries will meet in Paris in December to try to hammer out a deal to slow man-made climate change by aiming to keep temperatures below a ceiling of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
World leaders are hoping for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol after 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen ended in disappointment due to differences between the United States and China.
Tibet's leaders said they want an effective climate change agreement and also want to have a say in the talks.
About 80 percent of the ice in Tibet has retreated in the past 50 years, according to the government-in-exile.
With the rapidly melting permafrost, 12,300 million tons of carbon could be released into the air, further exacerbating the problems of global warming, they said.
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Paul Tait)