Bhutan: The First Carbon Negative Country Owing to Happiness

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Asian monks playing instruments on temple floor

Bhutan is a small country, prettily tucked away between India and China. Surrounded by mountains and hills, the small kingdom has managed to strictly retain almost 60% of land under forest cover. The country is sparsely populated. If you visit Bhutan, you’ll probably just land from one rural area to the next rural area, since it is one of the least developed nations in the world.

Fun fact: the country doesn’t have a single traffic light! The local police handle and manage the traffic of its region. In light of what has still made Bhutan stand at the top, and apart from other countries, is its commitment towards nature and environment conservation. It is the most environmentally evolved nation on the planet.

For nature seekers and nature enthusiasts, Bhutan might be the haven you’re looking for; More so, because Bhutan took the title of the first carbon negative country on the planet. What does this precisely mean? In simplest words, it means that Bhutan absorbs more carbon dioxide than it produces.

The current threats of global warming and climate change ask for immediate measures against Controlling Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, especially the production of Carbon Dioxide. In the more recent years, emphasis has also been laid on controlling methane.

Bhutan’s Stepping Stones Towards This Feat

Bhutan has vowed to stay carbon neutral for its entirety of existence. This small developing country becomes an emergency vision in the race of combating severe climate change. Referring to it as ‘Severe Climate Change’ because according to the climate clock we have just 7 years remaining to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius, otherwise the effects will become non-reversible. In this regard, carbon neutral countries, or countries running on renewable sources of energy, become the green cards the other nations should follow.

In this regard, Bhutan has had a few advantages to itself. One of the major ones is a sparse population of just 890,000 people. The other strong factor they had was their vast green cover, spread across the country.

The government of Bhutan employed a unique political agenda in the country. As we know, GDP (Gross National Product), is often used as an index tool to measure the growth of prosperity in a country.

However, Bhutan’s government introduced a more comprehensive measurement to determine the country’s true prosperity. They emphasised on the inclusion of other basic necessities, apart from economical, in calculating the country’s true development, and one of these was happiness, and thus was introduced the Gross National Happiness, or GNH index tool.

A 2015 survey conducted in Bhutan reported that 91% of the citizens of Bhutan are narrowly, extensively, or deeply happy. The GNH (Gross National Happiness) also put environmental conservation as one of the crucial pillars of happiness. The country saw the environment being vehemently included in all political policies.

Legalising the Environment: Doing it the Bhutan Way

The country releases about 2.2 million tonnes of CO2 in its atmosphere each year. However, the dense forest covers absorb three times this amount, which eventually creates a carbon sink, making the country carbon negative, instead of just carbon neutral. The government made amendments in its constitution to include forest laws as well.

The constitution of Bhutan maintains that at least 60% of the country’s total land should be kept under the forest cover. They have also banned log exports. The country also introduced a comprehensive plan of action for prioritising sustainable and equitable socio-economic development. Bhutan worked restlessly towards increasing its reliance on renewable sources of energy.

Bhutan is primarily focused on hydropower, solar power, wind energy, and bio energy. Free hydroelectric power generated by Bhutan’s rivers is used instead of fossil fuels. Along with that, they also provided free electricity to rural farmers to lessen their dependence on fuelwood. The country also exports renewable hydroelectric power that it generates from its rivers.

Bhutan has not reached 100% renewable energy production yet, however, a 2019 Renewables Readiness Assessment: Kingdom of Bhutan report launched by IRENA outlined for more regulatory and strengthened policy frameworks for diversifying and expanding the renewable energy sources. The report also highlighted the importance of livelihood enhancement through strengthening of the renewable sources of energy.

Both environmental and social benefits have arisen from the employment of these policies. For instance, the reduction of deforestation and indoor emissions caused by the use of fuelwood. This has also benefited women, as indoor emissions and the drudgery associated with gathering fuelwood were primarily their burden.

Bhutan’s environmental beauty and standards are obviously appealing to many people. Which means a lot of tourists and nature seekers have had their eyes on the country. The government of Bhutan is very well aware of this, and surprisingly, they have also put steps and measures to prevent large crowds of tourists visiting the country at particular places at particular times.

Moreover, a collaboration with Nissan was sought by Bhutan’s government. This partnership has worked to replace all petrol diesel cars with electrical cars.

Importance of Carbon Negative Emission

Carbon dioxide symbol CO2 smoking and burning

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report in 2018 which warned the countries against the rising carbon emissions which are driving the planet to its catastrophic demise. The report pleaded to the nations to aim at zero carbon emissions by the year 2050 to keep global temperature close to 1.5 degree celsius.

Nations all across the world are trying to implement both technological and nature based solutions to reduce GHG emissions. The technological solutions are still in progress, and no large-scale carbon negative emission technologies have been harnessed yet. The nature based solutions, that are, use of renewable sources of energy and better management of oceans and forests are our best tools to work on.

What the Future Holds

Bhutan has been embracing and holding onto its promise of a carbon negative nation for years now. The small kingdom silently grasped the prestigious title of absorbing at least 6million tonnes of carbon each year. For the upcoming years, Bhutan has made several goals for itself. One of them is to become a zero waste nation by the year 2030. This goal directly depends on how strong their foundations of renewable energy sources will be.

Unfortunately, all of this doesn’t nullify the facts that Bhutan still can be a victim of climate changes in the form of untimely rain and floods. This calls for a reality check that all the nations of the planet must come on the same platform to extensively participate in making net GHG emissions close to zero.

The 2016 TED Talk titled, “This country isn’t just carbon neutral – it’s carbon negative”, by the then former prime minister, Tshering Tobgay, asked all the nations to join hands with him to carry the dreams of Bhutan beyond its own borders for a better and a safer future.

Also read:

Importance of Environment to Human Life

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