Coinciding with the birth anniversary of His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo, Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen launched the Bhutan for Life initiative to protect the country’s network of protected areas.

Bhutan for Life, a joint initiative of the government and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), worth USD 43M (Nu 2.8 billion) is a strategic and long-term solution to ensure that Bhutan remains economically and environmentally sustainable. It is the first such initiaitive in South Asia.

The initiative ensures that there is sustainable funding to properly manage Bhutan’s protected areas, which account for more than 51 percent of the country, the highest percentage of land designated as protected in Asia.

The Bhutan for Life initiative draws on the success story of Bhutan in conservation, guided by the farsighted vision of His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo, and strengthened by the continued efforts of His Majesty The King.

Today, Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen’s commitment and tireless support as the Royal Patron of Environment fortifies Bhutan’s cause for environment protection.

Her Majesty, in a keynote address at the event, paid tribute to Bhutan’s extraordinary achievements in conservation under the leadership of our monarchs. Her Majesty said that Bhutan’s vision was to not only fulfil international obligations, but through her success, be a source of encouragement and inspiration for the world.

Agriculture Minister Yeshey Dorji said: “Our incredible journey of conservation has been possible because of visionary leadership of our beloved monarchs and the unique cultural values Bhutanese attach to our environment.”

Her Majesty presented special recognition to Bhutan For Life partners at the event, which was attended by the Prime Minister, senior government officials, and heads of international environment organizations, and partners, including the WWF, Green Climate Fund, DT Families Foundation, Bhutan Trust Fund, Global Environment Facility, and other private partners.

WWF Bhutan’s country director, Dechen Dorji, said the journey of “Bhutan for Life” had not always been a smooth ride. “There were times when the momentum got slackened, and the impetus decelerated. There were times when we almost felt that the BFL commitments could take longer than estimated.”

He said that the journey had not yet ended. “We still have a good number of miles to cover, before we can fully secure the future of a place, that all sentient beings call home.”

What does the initiative do?

Bhutan for Life aims to protect, save, and monitor wildlife and habitats, provide sustainable ecosystem goods and services for Bhutan and its neighbours, maintain Bhutan’s forest cover and its promise to remain carbon neutral for all times, support the thousands of people living in protected areas through job creation and community improvements, and strengthen the enforcement and management of protected areas.

With the launch of the BFL, the burden on the government exchequer for conservation expenses is expected to be significantly lessened, which will allow the governments of the future to focus on the social sectors, the economy, and other pressing needs.

About 52 percent of Bhutan’s Protected Areas (PA) can generate environmental friendly economic opportunities with the timely and right level of investments. The parks and wildlife sanctuaries do not have substantial ecotourism products and activities.

Bhutan’s environment also benefits the world. Its forests sequester more than six million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, which is four times more than what Bhutan emits.

Before the event, the government and WWF Bhutan also signed a declaration of commitment of BFL, witnessed by donors and partners of the initiative.

Proper management of the protected areas will ensure that the country’s five-million-acre network of forests and rivers will be protected against poaching, illegal logging and other threats.

A joint press release from the government and WWF stated, “forests will be able to absorb carbon so Bhutan can maintain its commitment to being carbon neutral at all times to come. Bhutan’s rivers, which are part of a network of rivers that provide water for one-fifth of the world, will remain clean.

“The country’s natural resources will support the livelihoods of much of the country’s rural population and help them to be more resilient against the impacts of climate change. And iconic wildlife, such as Bengal tigers and Asian elephants, will thrive in their natural habitat,” the press release stated.

How does the funding work? 

It is a multi-party, single closing deal, which means basically a group of donors commit funds towards BFL but the funds are held and not distributed until the total fund raising commitment goal has been reached.

When all the conditions are met, funds will be placed in a transition fund that will make annual payments, starting high and declining to zero over a period of 14 years. At the same time, the government will increase its funding by approximately five to seven percent annually over this 14-year term. After that, Bhutan is responsible for fully funding all protected areas on its own.

The potential sources for  internal funding have been identified as the green tax levied on the import of vehicles, payment for ecosystem services from hydropower, and revenue from eco-tourism in the protected areas.

An independent board with representatives from the government of Bhutan, BFL donors and relevant experts will oversee the implementation of the BFL-funded activities for the next 14 years.

Her Majesty also launched a book on the 40 years of partnership between WWF and Bhutan at the event.

Tshering Palden