Welcome to Bhutan. You have arrived at a small Himalayan country, often referred to as “Shangri-la” by western media. You are situated deep in the Himalayan mountains, between India and China. Take off your seatbelt and enjoy your trip around the world’s first carbon-neutral country.
Bhutan is a small country with a modest economy. In total, the economy is worth only 2 billion, less than some individuals in western countries. However, despite a small net economy, healthcare is free, education is free and conservation of the environment is a national priority.
This is because Bhutan’s national economic policy is based on Gross National Happiness, rather than Gross National Product, and no that’s not a joke. The small Himalayan kingdom, uses the Gross National Happiness Index as a socio-economic index that works like a measuring scale of the well-being of the Bhutanese population. This index is used to ensure that economic progression and development is not prioritised in a way that squashes traditional practices and lifestyles.
To give some background to Bhutan’s extraordinary commitment to the environment let me lay out the land. Bhutan is a country in which 72% of the land remains under forest cover. Under the Bhutanese constitution this figure must never dip below 60%. Buddhism is strongly entrenched in Bhutanese society and hinges on a very strong eco-ethical frame of mind whereby all of our actions should be chosen in a manner that cause the least harm to the world around us. One of the four pillars of the Gross National Happiness programme is conservation of the environment, an aspect of Bhutanese policy that has attracted global commendation, and for good reason.
Out of all of the countries in the world, Bhutan is the only country that has been declared carbon neutral. But the country has gone even further. Bhutan is now a carbon negative country, generating only 1/3 of the carbon dioxide that is sequestered by its forests. But even this extraordinary achievement has not caused Bhutan to let up. Bhutan has continued to forge it’s own path for climate justice and has set an aim to export enough green energy by 2020 to offset 17 million tons of carbon dioxide.
The Prime Minister of Bhutan, Tsering Togbay, recently gave a TED talk, outlining the country’s strategy for a greener future. He gave specific examples of how the government are promoting environmental conservation as part of the traditional lifestyle. For example, providing free electricity to rural farmers to avoid wood fires, investing in sustainable transport by subsidising the purchasing of electric vehicles, subsidising the cost of LED lights, going paperless at government level and planting trees throughout the country in the Green Bhutan programme.
Bhutan has also developed it’s unique ‘Bhutan For Life’ programme, which approaches the funding of protection for Bhutan’s national parks much like a Wall Street deal, a multiparty funder deal with a single closing. The idea is to raise a transition fund- until the government has enough money to fund the project itself- from individual donors, corporations and institutions.
But the country is not without its problems. The UN World Happiness Report recently ranked Bhutan 97th in the world on its World Happiness Index. The truth that lies behind these figures is a sad one. Despite Bhutan’s continued efforts to live sustainably, it is greatly affected by the careless actions of other countries around the world.
Bhutan is a country which lays claim to hundreds of glaciers. Glaciers that are melting as a result of global warming, causing flash floods and devastation among the Bhutanese population. Even though Bhutan is a world leader in climate justice and sustainable living, it is one of the most harshly affected countries.
Bhutan is an extraordinary example of a country that has managed to transcend the traditional narrative of economic development vs environmental conservation, intertwining the two together to produce a new story. This is a story that we should all be telling.
Welcome to Bhutan.
Sign up to our newsletter to get our top stories straight to your inbox.
Image courtesy of Faris Mohammad via Unsplash