Chhimi Dema 

The impacts of climate change are more evident than ever, with reports stating that global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century, unless a deep reduction in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions occurs in the coming decades.

To adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change, the experts in the country are calling for a concerted effort and ecosystem-based solutions.

Phuntsho Namgyal, a government employee familiar with UN climate change negotiations and who was part of the review team for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, said that Bhutan is “highly vulnerable” to the impacts of climate change.

The country is highly vulnerable, he said, considering the limited resources in climate change mitigation technologies and heavy dependency on climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture and hydropower.

The recent paddy damage due to incessant rain in parts of the country has shown how vulnerable the country is to climate change. The Raising Climate Action talk series last week also shed light on the impacts of climate change in the highlands of the country.

The changing weather patterns, growth of algae in lakes, and retreating glaciers are some conditions observed in the highlands that are attributed to global warming.

Phuntsho Namgyel said that global warming threatens to severely impact natural conditions such as ice sheet collapse, ocean circulation changes, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, extreme weather conditions, changes in the hydrological cycle, and glacier retreat.

Reports from the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) shows that the 700 glaciers in the country are retreating at an alarming rate and experts warn that the glaciers could disappear in the next 50 years if the trend continues.

If ocean circulation is affected, Phuntsho Namgyel said it would affect precipitation in the country causing long periods of drought, which would cause disturbances in the sowing season.

He said that if there are abrupt ocean circulation changes, then the weather at the equator will change, impacting the monsoon season. This, he said, will affect hydropower and its power generation capacity.

A research professor, Sonam Wangyel Wang, said that despite the country’s pro-environmental policy and nature-based lifestyle, Bhutan is “still highly vulnerable to climate change.”

He added: “Fragile mountain landscapes, a developing economy, and a lack of scientific technology to forecast weather and climate associated disasters make Bhutan more vulnerable.”

Climate action going  forward 

“Adaption to climate change should be ecosystem-based solutions. Solutions that are relevant to a community and that can be built from locally available materials,” said Phuntsho Namgyel.

However, adaptations have limits imposed by cost and technology. As the severity of climate change increases, the adaptation strategies will require enhancement.

“Internationally, people should acknowledge that Bhutan is doing more than its fair share in fighting climate change. Countries should help Bhutan to adapt to climate change by providing technology and know-how resources,” he said.

Sonam Wangyel Wang said that the country is moving forward in its climate efforts. However, he added, the pace may need a boost to keep up with the economic development in Bhutan and adaptation and mitigation efforts globally.

“Climate change is a cross-sectoral issue, and success of any adaptation and mitigation programme depends upon the efficiency, effectiveness, and transparent commitment of all the sectors,” he said.

Sectoral coordination is thwarted with poor communication, role redundancy, and sometimes lack of commitment to coordinate, he added.

He pointed out that there is limited research to understand climate change trends and climate-induced disasters and conflicts in the country.

Sequestration rate by our forests, he said, needs to be ascertained because, at some point in their life, sequestration by trees peaks off. “Rising emissions from transport, development infrastructure, and factories in the face of decreasing sequestration by forests could impact Bhutan’s commitment to carbon neutrality.”

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk