Choki Wangmo 

Water Male Tiger Year: Environment – After years of taking the backseat due to the pandemic, the climate and environment sector gradually started receiving more attention in the Water Male Tiger year.

The five-day Snowman Race was the highlight of the year. Local and international athletes ran the ultramarathon and brought back experiences and messages of climate change from the high mountains of Bhutan. Bhutanese runners won in both the male and female categories of the race. As climate ambassadors, the participants shared their experiences during the country’s first climate conclave in Bumthang.

Through the foreign minister, a young girl from Lunana sent a letter to the world at the United Nations General Assembly asking the world leaders to save her village from the impacts of climate change. Local climate advocates travelled across the country carrying climate messages to people.

Coincidentally, the year saw many climate-induced disasters—windstorms, heavy snowfall, monsoon floods, cyclones, and landslides—mostly affecting farmers across the country. The weather pattern was erratic with low-lying regions reporting snowfall. The country experienced slightly above-normal rainfall and days hotter than normal. Studies reported accelerated glacial-melting and people lost their lives to flood. For instance, the Jasabi flood in Lhuentse killed five people.

There were some mitigation measures such as water-harvesting technology in the farms to adapt to climate change and flood-mitigation works in Mauchhu in Gelephu.

Despite many failed attempts in banning plastic, agencies and stakeholders reunited once again to reduce plastic waste in the country. Agencies started penalising defaulters while some districts observed zero-waste months.  One such initiative was the Tendrel for Environment—an attempt towards zero waste society. Green enterprises in the country also received support from international organisations. Waste Flagship Programme once again tried to reinforce the plastic ban.  Meanwhile, a study reported traces of harmful chemical elements in fish from Punatsangchhu.

In the year of the Tiger, Bhutan’s tiger conservation efforts were globally recognised. Community-based tiger conservation fund was also started last year. The population of the Black-necked crane visiting the country doubled last year. However, the population of the critically endangered White-bellied Heron was found to be at risk.

The year saw the opening of the historic Trans Bhutan Trail that connects the east and the west. Trashigang dzongkhag started an eco-trail. The forest department allowed one-time timber export to reduce the backlog.

There were concerted efforts in bringing about energy efficiency in different sectors. Electric vehicles (EVs), for example. Bhutan plans to replace 70 percent of vehicles with EVs by 2035. The government planned to install EV charging stations in each dzongkhag by the yearend but was a far-fetched dream as it was found that EV charging stations were short-charged due to misappropriation of funds. The RENEW started a model of energy-efficient infrastructure. For energy security, small hydropower projects were started in Lhuentse, Zhemgang, and Haa.

Bhutan recorded various new species of plants and animals. Rare woolly flying squirrel found in the Jigme Dorji National Park. A forester/ butterfly specialist Karma Wangdi was awarded the Jigme Singye Wangchuck outstanding stewardship award.

Elephants and tigers remained persistent in asserting their rights as they invaded fields and marauded fields and killed livestock.

The year of the Rabbit is expected to see such losses caused by these iconic species on farmers’ ease with the agriculture ministry implementing crop and livestock insurance schemes.