YK Poudel

In pursuit of sustaining carbon neutrality, Bhutan Pavilion, which opens on December 1, will focus on six key themes during the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) ending December 12.

The pavilion will host over 40 events and see participation of over 150 national and international delegates.

Community action, natural capital and conservation, carbon stewardship, energy transition, food and water security, and green, and urban resilience are the six key messages that Bhutan pavilion will focus on.

Six key themes of Bhutan Pavilion

Community Action

Considered the ‘heartbeat’ of positive change, community action is aimed at preparing the country to thrive in volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, and hyperconnected (VUCAH) world. In Bhutan, a prime example of community action is de-suung or the guardians of peace.

Founded in the spirit of volunteerism, de-suung was launched in 2011 under the visionary leadership of His Majesty The King.

The country now has 42,775 active members (25,053 male and 17,722 female) dedicated tobringing positive changes.

Such initiatives are at the core of the country’s human capital, volunteering actively in various domains: greening cities, planting millions of fruit trees, ensuring safety for women, developing clean energy, responding to emergencies and providing aid for recovery from disasters, combating forest fires, promoting a zero-waste philosophy, and empowering our youth with skills.

The power of such collective action, resulting in a significant positive impact, encapsulates Bhutan’s narrative of Gross National Happiness.

Conserving Natural Capital

Living in harmony with nature and respecting all forms of life has ensured dedicated policies to safeguarding the natural capital.

Sustainable development is a distinct measure of Bhutan’s national success.

Today, Bhutan serves as a refuge for native and endemic wildlife. Majestic Bengal tigers, elusive snow leopards, graceful black-necked cranes, gentle giants such as elephants, and the legendary takins all find sanctuary in the country’s vast network of protected areas, encompassing an impressive five million acres.

In addition, the Constitution mandates the least of 60 percent forest coverage for all times to come. The nation has 69.5 percent coverage, as per the National Forest Inventory 2023.

The Energy and Natural Resources Ministry’s (MoENR) report states that the carbon sequestration capacity for Bhutan increased to 11 million tonnes from 9.6 million in the last six years.

Green and Resilient  Urbanisation

With transformation in the urban landscape of Bhutan, driven by a rising demand for modern urban infrastructure, uninterrupted access to energy and water, and affordable homes, urbanisation should be green, resilient, and sustainable.

Introducing the Low Emissions Development Strategy (LEDS) for Human Settlement: a roadmap for the coming decade. This blueprint encompasses a variety of measures aiming to revolutionise the cities.

Bhutan has adopted the structure plan for Thimphu recently. The focus of the plan is to introduce new green infrastructure, parks, water systems, and a low-emission, public transport-centric movement strategy.

Additionally, Bhutan is championing a top-tier, bio-based, regenerative catalyst initiative, fostering skill development, and creating opportunities that bridge the gap from forest to frame.

These innovative measures have the potential to reduce Bhutan’s carbon footprint by 4,122 Gg CO2e.

To meet this vision, the country plans to establish a National Infrastructure Bond, initially aiming to fund an investment of USD 100 million annually—a testament to Bhutan’s long- term commitment to building a sustainable, green urban paradise.

Water Security

Bhutan has one of the world’s highest per capita availability of freshwater resources at 94,500 cubic metres annually.

The country has glacial cover spanning over 629.55 km2 and over 567 glacial lakes and four major river systems and tributaries.

These water bodies play a vital role in sustaining life, generating hydropower, nourishing agriculture, safeguarding forests and biodiversity, and promoting clean energy.

Yet the problem lies in rugged terrain, seasonal water flow variations, unpredictable weather patterns, minimal storage facilities, and limited infrastructure, often leading to localized water scarcity and compromised water reliability.

To address this, Bhutan is enhancing its capabilities in both natural and built water storage, aiming to protect ecosystems, lives, and livelihoods. Bhutan is prioritizing investments in nature-based solutions for watershed conservation, restoration, built water storage, and ensuring access to clean drinking water.

Carbon Stewardship

Bhutan has set its goal to remain carbon neutral where greenhouse gas emissions won’t outstrip the carbon sequestration.

The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) builds upon the commitment to protect forests, is constitutionally ensured to cover at least 60 percent.

Bhutan is embarking on a low-emission development journey across all sectors, with the potential to offset a remarkable 4.4 million tons of CO2 through clean energy by 2025.

The generation of electricity is powered by run-of-the-river hydropower plants. Bhutan contributes to regional decarbonisation through the export of hydroelectricity. By harnessing the power of clean energy, Bhutan aspires to avoid a staggering 22.4 million tons of carbon annually by 2025.

Bhutan plans to establishing the Bhutan Climate Fund—an initiative designed to directly link decarbonisation with improved development outcomes. This dedicated fund will generate revenues from emissions reductions and removals to fuel innovative financing for mitigation programmes.

Food Security

Arable land in Bhutan faces challenges—about 30 percent lies fallow due to crop and livestock losses from wildlife, pests, and diseases. Less than 20 percent of the land is irrigated.

The nation is grappling with pests and diseases that remain major challenges for smallholder farmers constituting 95.56 percent of the farming challenges. The agro-processing infrastructure is nascent with just three cold storages.

The call to action is clear, Bhutan must swiftly adapt to climate change and cultivate resilience to safeguard the Bhutanese way of life. Climate-smart agriculture is a need of investment.

Within the next decade, Bhutan will witness eight and transformative pathways. These are designed to establish a high-performance food system that ensures abundance and catalyzes the maximization of GNH, with the aim of achieving the SDGs by 2030.

Sustaining Carbon Neutrality

Bhutan made the commitment of carbon neutrality in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992.

At COP15 in 2009, Bhutan declared its commitment to carbon neutrality, a promise that is reiterated in its NDCs in 2015. The second NDCs in 2021 reinstates the carbon neutrality through Low Emission Development Strategies in Food Security, Human Settlements, and Surface Transportation.

Energy Transition

The IPCC AR6 underscores the urgency of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. In ratcheting up ambition towards achieving this 1.5-degree target, Bhutan is resolved to scale up renewable energy and pursue Low Emission Development growth.

The river systems in Bhutan are one of the drivers of socio-economic development. As an adaptation measure to changing water flows, especially in the dry seasons, the country is diversifying its energy portfolio. This diversification leverages existing hydropower and focuses on scaling up and building resilience in energy security through the development of mini-hydro, solar, wind, and waste-to-energy solutions.

Production of hydrogen fuel and other hydrogen products for energy storage and fuel substitute are some of the key interventions aimed at achieving energy sufficiency and contributing to green growth in the energy sector.