Pristine Bhutan Strives To Maintain A Carbon Neutral Development Path
Bhutan is also a biodiversity hotspot with over 6000 species of flora and approximately 1900 species of fauna.
By Pema Seldon | The Bhutanese
Given that the conservation of our environment has been recognised as one of the four pillars of the Gross National Happiness (GNH), Bhutan has committed to remain carbon neutral at the 2009 Conference of Parties in Copenhagen.
This pledge was further reaffirmed at the 2015 Paris agreement in which Bhutan sought to maintain a healthy balance between development and conservation of the environment.
With the majority of Bhutan’s population dependent on agriculture, and the economy heavily reliant on hydropower and tourism, climate change will have serious implications on Bhutan’s socioeconomic development.
Bhutan is haven for a vast variety of flora and fauna
Bhutan is also a biodiversity hotspot with over 6000 species of flora and approximately 1900 species of fauna, as mentioned in the 12th plan’s document.
The elusive and endangered snow leopard is found in Bhutan.
Today, approximately 71 per cent of Bhutan's total area is maintained under forest cover, of which 51.4% are protected areas, 8.6% are ecological corridors while the Royal Botanical Parks constitute another 0.1%.
Thus, ensuring a healthy ecosystem has been identified as one the National Key Result Areas (NKRA) in the 12th plan.
Rural residents feel strongly about environmental conservation
The GNH Survey in 2015 found a high prevalence of pro-environmental beliefs amongst the population.
However, a slight difference exists between the rural and urban residents, with more rural residents having stronger pro-environmental beliefs as compared to their urban counterparts.
A large majority of the population reported that they feel highly responsible for conserving the natural environment, according to the 12th plan’s document.
It is stated that with the rapid pace of socio-economic development, pressures on the natural environment are rising.
Negative impact of rapid development on the environment
The conversion of forests into other land uses is increasing. It has also been found that between 2008 and 2014, 9,426 hectares (ha) of state reserved forest land were lost to construction of transmission lines, 5462 ha to farm roads and 5,208 ha to long term land lease.
Photo: Abdullah Mahmud 1311
Moreover, between 2011 and 2012, 153 ha of state land were allocated from ‘protected areas’ and 2,561 ha of land from other state land for developmental purposes, leading to habitat fragmentation.
In order to address the challenges and achieve this NKRA, various strategies such as: innovative financing for the sustainable management of protected areas, initiated payment for ecosystem services and strengthened research on biodiversity information has been identified.
Sustainable natural resources management and the utilisation and enhanced environment service delivery will be implemented to achieve the NKRA.
With regards to climate change, the 12th plan’s document states that Bhutan is a net carbon sink with an estimated sequestration capacity of 6.3 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, with an annual emission of 2.1 million tons.
Bhutan is vulnerable to the negative impact of climate change
The document also states that: “Bhutan’s mountainous terrain and variation in agro-ecological zone renders it vulnerable to impacts of climate change and disasters. There are increasing incidences of forest fires and glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF), drying up of water sources, outbreak of crop diseases, windstorm, erratic and high intensity of rainfall.”
Bhutan's glacier lake in Lunana.
Photo: The Third Pole
In order to mitigate the negative impact of climate change, some of the strategies identified to address the challenges include: mainstreaming the environment in all sectoral and local government plans, managing waste through the ‘Pay as You Throw Approach’ or ‘Big Bin Small Bin approach’, enhancing adaptation to climate change as well as strengthening preparedness and responses to both natural and man-made disasters.
Some programs which are to be implemented in the 12th plan are as follows:
- Enhancement of solid waste prevention and management
- Strengthening ambient air quality
- Monitoring system and environment-flow standards
- Low emission and enhanced adaptation to climate change
- Enhancement of disaster risk reduction and management
- Climate smart and disaster resilient development
- Safe, reliable eco-friendly and sustainable surface transportation.
This article first appeared in The Bhutanese and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.