With ever intensifying land use, land degradation is becoming an increasingly important issue around the world, especially in China. This paper evaluates the extent and underlying causes of rangeland degradation on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in China through a comprehensive review of the literature. Diverse forms and differing intensities of rangeland degradation have been reported in several regions of the Plateau. Rangeland degradation is particularly severe in South Qinghai, North Tibet and the Qaidam Basin. Anthropogenic activities, especially changing land use practices, are identified as the primary force driving rangeland degradation. Dissimilar to climate change-induced degradation, such anthropogenic degradation is a rather short-term process altering the abiotic properties of the underlying soil. On the basis of these findings, we assessed the prospects of rehabilitating degraded rangeland to productive uses. Different measures are proposed to rehabilitate rangelands that have been degraded by different mechanisms. Reduction in grazing intensity is prescribed to rehabilitate reversibly degraded rangelands. Targeted human intervention in the forms of selective planting of grasses and artificial seeding, in conjunction with ecological and biological control of the plateau rodent population, is recommended to rehabilitate ‘irreversibly’ degraded rangelands. Our studies suggest it is very difficult or even impossible to rehabilitate new assemblage of species which appear as a result of climate change. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.