Bhutan must be rewarded for battling climate change

Bhutan contributes little or zero to the climate crisis. Yet, it has not been justly rewarded for its noble and invaluable sacrifices, writes Rinchen Kinzang for South Asia Monitor

Rinchen Kinznag Dec 11, 2021
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Bhutan (Photo: UNDP)

Bhutan has more than 70 percent of forest coverage. Agriculture is the backbone of its economy. Besides, tourism and hydropower sectors generate national income to a great extent. However, exceeding reliance on hydropower and agriculture for livelihood and economic growth increases vulnerability to climate change ramifications.  

The Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a holistic developmental approach in Bhutan. It balances the happiness of the people with material growth. Bhutan has committed to environmental protection and remained a carbon-negative country. Still, it has profoundly been more susceptible to climate change.  

Bhutan has suffered 

To name but a few significant climates risks that Bhutan has repeatedly experienced include changes in weather patterns, rainfall, droughts, flash floods, windstorms, forest fires, floods, landslides, dissemination of diseases and change of animal habitats. It was recently reported the mosquitoes were spotted at 3,500 meters above sea level IN Bhutan for the first time.  

The severe impact of climate change has significant implications on human lives and livelihoods and exacerbates pre-existing problems on food security, biodiversity, energy and water resources.

Reforestation began as early as 1947. Bhutan is against development at the expense of natural resources. The constitution of Bhutan mandates that the country should maintain 60 percent of its land area as forest. Interestingly, it has more than 70 percent forest cover. Parliament may declare any part of the country a state-reserved forest.  

Green policy 

The challenge of de-carbonization is still a matter of complexity. It is inexorable from socio-economic development. Nonetheless, Bhutan has made ambitious pledges to achieve carbon neutrality. Bhutan is committed to Saving the Planet by guaranteeing that GHG emission levels do not exceed its forests' sequestration capacity. To this end, Bhutan has adopted a green economic development policy to reduce carbon emissions.  

Bhutan is increasing its vulnerability to climate change, leading to loss of lives, property damage and endangering cultural and heritage sites. Floods and landslides have intensified in the last decade due to the increased intensity of rainfalls and untimely start and end of monsoons. This has affected agriculture and infrastructure.  

While Bhutan bears no responsibility for global warming, it experiences climate change's most social and economic consequences. Thus, Bhutan pays for others’ climate sins. 

Climate change affects disproportionately. The developing countries are more vulnerable. It is vital to strengthen and build the capacity of national, regional, and international institutions to lead and play a catalytic role in addressing climate change. The mere conformity and compliance with the relevant legislation of a particular country alone cannot prevent climate-related risks. It needs the world's engagement in unity, including non-state actors.  

Reward Bhutan 

International climate change negotiation has been making a definite vow to decarbonize economies. However, the commitment to any significant reduction of global carbon emissions is yet to see palpable outcomes. There is a need for further international coordination in mitigation and adaptation to climate problems.  

Bhutan contributes little or zero to the climate crisis. Yet, it has not been justly rewarded for its noble and invaluable sacrifices. In any case, Bhutan does not have enough funds for climate change reduction, mitigation and adaptation. Bhutan deserves financial accessibility and incentives to build capacity, implement planned policies and have a scientific knowledge powerhouse for mitigation and adaptation.  

Humanity today uses resources at record acceleration than nature can regenerate. The vast forest cover, limited industrialization and clean energy use help Bhutan persist as one of few countries with net sequestration of GHG emissions. But Bhutan’s commitment to remain carbon neutral compromises its economic development.  

Bhutan focusing solely on hydropower for income can be perilous as it has been threatened by climate change. Also, the retreat of more glaciers by global warming can lead to the loss of fast-flowing rivers. It is high time to look for economic alternatives and diversification. The shutdown of the Tala Hydropower Plant in Chhukha district for detailed inspection and repairs for three months from December-end will lead to a revenue loss of about Nu 840 million. On the contrary, unseasonal or heavy rainfalls contribute to more hydropower generation.  

Bhutan’s obligation to remain carbon neutral and environmental policies should not compromise its economic development. 

(The author, a researcher-writer from Bhutan, did a Master's in International Relations from South Asian University, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at rinchenkin34@gmail.com) 

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