The utterance of Bhutan invokes the image of majestic fog enshrouded temples nestled into mountainous terrain into anyone’s mind. But, this incredible child of the Himalaya, faced its two most devastating flash floods in the years 1994 and 2004. These were caused by the fast retreating glaciers of Himalayas-clear the signs of threats to life and nature. It was high time that Bhutan adopted instantaneous serious measures to fight the inevitable calamities.
Thus, in the year 2009, Bhutan had declared that it would remain carbon neutral “for all time” and made the most ambitious pledge on cutting emissions at COP21, according to Britain’s Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think tank.
Ever since then, Bhutan has not just kept its promise to remain carbon neutral but stand as the most carbon negative country in the world in present time.
Despite its zero contribution to climate change, Bhutan is bearing the brunt of it. As a small state high in the Himalayas, it faces disruption to water supplies, extreme weather and impacts on ecosystems as a result of changes to the climate. So, it was in their interests to address the problem both domestically and through the UN climate process.
Bhutan, which tests all policies and projects against a Gross National Happiness index, therefore, kept its promise to keep at least 60% of its forest cover “in perpetuity”. There are strict rules against poaching, hunting, mining and pollution in these areas.
The Bhutanese government gives free electricity to its farmers to curb the production of carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of firewood, subsidizes eco-friendly LED lights, and in partnership with Nissan, encourages the use of electric cars in the country through subsidies. They created biological corridors that connect the protected areas to each other. Last summer, it set a world record for the most trees planted in one hour – nearly 50,000. The broad diversity of animals is, therefore, free to roam throughout the country!
The state is now an unparalleled carbon sink, absorbing three times more CO2 emissions than its 700,000 population produces, mostly through hydropower. A substantial portion of the country lacks access to the electricity grid, however. Bhutan's aim to put happiness before economic growth and therefore adopted a holistic look at development, favoring “Gross National Happiness” over the gross national product.
Countries like Costa Rica and Iceland, are on the cusp of carbon neutrality, while Norway and New Zealand, have pledged carbon neutrality by 2030. But of course, the most inspiring success story lies hidden amongst the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas, where centuries of tradition make conservation a priority. Thus, Bhutan even promises to reach zero net greenhouse gas emissions and produce zero waste by 2030.