Carbon Negative: What can we learn from Bhutan?

Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom of the Himalayas, with a population of just over 800,000, is a landlocked and mountainous country. Geographically speaking, Bhutan is tucked between the first and third biggest emitters of carbon in the world, China and India, and so it might come as a surprise that Bhutan is actually the only Carbon Negative country in the world!

Tesharing Tobgay giving a TED Talk. source: TED

Gross National Happiness?

The notion of carbon negative seems like a far-flung dream for the majority of nations nowadays, with governments focussing on GDP, Capital and growing their economies as quickly as possible. Bhutan is actually one of the smallest economies in the world, and their entire GDP is just over 2.5 billion dollars. By standards we are familiar with, this would indicate a very poor and underdeveloped economy (especially when we consider that in 2014 the GDP of the UK was over 3 trillion dollars).

For Bhutan the mindset is different. The government operates within a framework of governance and economic growth, but puts equal focus on environmental sustainability, social development, and cultural preservation. They take a holistic approach and rather than measuring growth in GDP, it is measured in GNH, or gross national happiness.

source: Pintrest

Forest Cover

The country places its focus on the ecosystem around it. Their use of limited resources is sparse and they remain faithful to the core of GNH, which is to maintain pristine environment. These ideals are enshrined in the very constitution, which imposes forest cover. The constitution states that a minimum of 60% of Bhutans total land shall be maintained under forest cover for all of time, and currently the total forest cover of 71% far exceeds that.

Why are the forests important though? The entire country generates 2.2 million tonnes of co2 each year. But the forests sequester more than 3 times that amount leaving a net negative amount of carbon, more than 4 million tonnes of CO2 each year. 

Forest Cover of Bhutan between 1930 and 2014. source: Research Gate

Hydropower Potential

In addition to the forest sequestration, Bhutan exports hydropower electricity, a form of clean energy. This export offsets a further 6 million tonnes of CO2 and by 2020, Bhutan will have exported enough hydropower electricity to offset the equivalent of 17 million tonnes CO2.

Harnessing half of the country’s hydropower potential could offset a mere 50 million tonnes of CO2,which is more than what the whole city of New York produces in a year. 

Promises made?

At COP15 in 2009, Bhutan promised to remain carbon neutral for all time. In COP21 Bhutan reiterated that promise in Paris, but this time governments accepted the realities of climate change where they hadn’t before.

Bhutan provides free electricity to rural farmers so they no longer have to use firewood to cook food, they have implemented sustainable transport and subsidise the purchase of electric vehicles. Their government in its entirety is trying to go paperless and are also subsidising the cost of LED lights. In addition to these policies, Bhutan runs national programs such as Clean Bhutan, which as the name suggests, is aimed at cleaning up Bhutan. This runs in conjunction with Green Bhutan, which focuses on maintaining their forest cover and promotes planting trees, further aiding with forest sequestration.

Whilst it is near impossible that the western world will ever become a tranquil nation of monks, we can still take lessons from the Bhutanese in how we should treat the environment we reside in.

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