Today, we mark Bhutan’s 50th year as a member to the United Nations (UN) during extraordinary times– both around the world as well as within Bhutan. Looking back at the past 50 years, we recognize the history of a unique development journey undertaken by Bhutan under the wise and dynamic leadership of Their Majesties the Kings- the Third, Fourth and The Fifth Druk Gyalpo.

We are also reminded of the strong and enduring partnership between the UN and the Royal Government of Bhutan and today, we (the UN), reaffirm our commitment to work together for a healthier and more sustainable Bhutan. 

As we commemorate this important milestone, share our hopes, learn from our experiences and spark ideas for building the future, we strive to ensure the UN remains ‘fit for purpose’. We need to expand our ambition for this country and for the people of Bhutan and take real action to support the most vulnerable sections of the society – because only then can we truly ensure we ‘leave no one behind.’ In practice, this means taking explicit action to end extreme poverty, curb inequalities, confront discrimination and fast-track progress for the furthest behind. 

And we do this work guided by values grounded in Gross National Happiness and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has identified the ‘five horsemen in our midst’ capable of jeopardizing every aspect of humanity’s future. These five horsemen include surging global tensions; a green planet that is burning; the form of mistrust is deep and growing; and the dark side of digital technology raises deep concern by spreading disinformation while undermining governance.   In the first half of 2020, we were also beset by Covid which is probably the biggest challenge to  humanity since the second World War- the impacts of which has affected humanity in ways comparable to the suffering caused by the second World War.

While we live in uncertain times and in a world full of unprecedented risks and challenges, there are also opportunities that couldn’t have been imagined previously. 

Bhutan has emerged as a beacon of hope in the region and the world as it responds to a Double Crisis of climate change and Covid. This Double Crisis demonstrates the need for multilateralism and the value of a 50 year partnership. Just as the battle against Covid cannot be won in isolation, so the climate crisis requires states to come together through international co-operation. Sharing of resources and expertise between the member states of the UN is needed now more than ever. 

Therefore, the 31 UN agencies that work in Bhutan have a unique role to play in supporting Bhutan to respond to these challenges as we look ahead to the next 50 years. 

Speaking at the 75th UN General Assembly in September 2020, the Prime Minister, Lyonchhen Dr  Lotay Tshering said Bhutan remains assured that the UN is and will continue to be instrumental in spearheading global collective action for building a better world and it is time to start a new UN chapter with renewed commitment to working together at all times.

The Prime Minister also rightly said that the UN needs to think differently about development and consider new ways of building back better.  This will require practical and innovative thinking, not just from UN member states or UN policymakers but from a diverse network of supportive, nonstate actors including CSOs, the media, academia and the private sector. Two weeks ago the UN Secretary General launched the ‘Common Agenda’ which is a detailed roadmap for how humanity can best respond to the challenges and opportunities we are likely to face over the coming 25 years: for details on this important global leadership, please go to agenda.  

The world of today is very different from what it was when the UN was created 76 years ago. We must evolve-adapt to this changing world. We need to develop long-term sustainable strategies to address the challenges we face. 

While there are more countries, more people and more challenges, there are also more solutions. Our working methods need to adapt, and we need to create a more agile and effective organization that delivers results-based solutions to global challenges. It is not enough to say we are part of the solution; our responsibility is to deliver results in the actions we take, day in – day out.

The UN supported the foundations of a modern Bhutan, starting from the establishment of the first airline and environmental trust fund to the current day, helping support Bhutan’s capacity to mitigate the impacts of climate change and its recovery from Covid.

 The UN supports the Royal Government in identifying the best practices in innovative financing to recover from the Double Crisis.  We recognize there is an increasing need for more resources to meet sustainable development priorities, counter the threats posed by climate change, and deal with the consequences of Covid. The issuance of Bhutan’s first sovereign bond in 2020 is evidence of the contribution the UN can make, in working together with a member state and providing technical assistance in strengthening its capital market.

As we deal with the Double Crisis there are countries (even in the region) facing what we may call a triple crisis as they are also affected by conflict and violence. Bhutan plays an important role in UN Peacekeeping and police missions since it joined in 2014. As of 31 December 2020, 32 Bhutanese personnel were serving to maintain international peace and security in some of the most challenging crisis countries around the world. This is a testament to Bhutan’s commitment to share the burden along with other member states. 

As the world struggles through this Covid battle, I am, as always, deeply moved by how Bhutan has come together in solidarity. His Majesty The King’s leadership inspires and encourages all Bhutanese to work together as one nation to combat Covid. I wish to commend the Royal Government of Bhutan for its tireless work in managing both the immediate responses to this pandemic and also the longer-term recovery measures.

On behalf of the 31 UN agencies working in Bhutan, I re-dedicate our commitment to the Royal Government and to the people of Bhutan. Your unwavering commitment to Bhutan’s development – in line with the values of Gross National Happiness – will help ensure the UN remains ever ‘fit for purpose’.

Partnership is the foundation stone for what the UN does in Bhutan and as we look forward to the next 50 years of partnership, the UN pledges to work with agility, transparency and accountability to strengthen our partnership  – for we know, partnering is the lifeblood of great development.

Together, we listen; and together, we act in partnership.

Contributed by

Gerald Daly

Resident Coordinator, UN Bhutan