COP21, the litmus test for action on climate change: FM

UN: Implementing the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, which for one, seeks to end poverty and hunger in the next 15 years, will be a daunting challenge, especially for least developed and landlocked countries like Bhutan, it was pointed out by foreign minister, Damcho Dorji, in his address to the 70th session of the UN general assembly on October 2.

“For a country like Bhutan, that is least developed and landlocked, addressing the challenges will require innovative and creative approaches to build on the progress we’ve achieved thus far,” Lyonpo said.

A key challenge would be building a sustainable green economy that gainfully employs the youth, is inclusive, and promotes self-reliance. “With a narrow industrial base and a high dependency on a single sector, our economy is faced with unprecedented macroeconomic challenges despite prolonged periods of robust growth,” he said. “A careful reorientation of our economy is imperative if we’re to ensure that our future development is inclusive and sustainable as envisaged in the 2030 agenda,” he added.

“In this regard the continuous support and cooperation of our development partners will be crucial as we seek innovative approaches to balance our environmental aspiration and developmental needs.”

Lyonpo added that this was even more important for Bhutan as it progresses towards graduating out of the Least Developed Countries category to ensure significant development gains are sustained.

The foreign minister also told the UN that Bhutan is ready to share its experience on Gross National Happiness (GNH).

“Guided by our development philosophy of Gross National Happiness, which is essentially development with values, we’ve consistently worked to ensure the peace, security, happiness and the well-being of our people who remain at the centre of development,” he said.

Lyonpo pointed out that Bhutan has achieved most of the Millennium Development Goals targets. “Poverty has been reduced to 12 percent, our primary school enrolment rate is nearly 100 percent, and life expectancy has increased to 68 years,” he said.

Lyonpo also pointed out that Bhutan remains a bastion of environmental conservation with 72 percent of its land under forest cover.

“Our achievements would not have been possible without good governance,” he said. “Over the decades, under the enlightened leadership of our monarchs, we’ve successfully embraced democracy,” he added.

The minister also spoke on the impact Bhutan’s hydropower project will be having on the environment.

Bhutan has pledged to remain carbon neutral for all time in 2009. “We have kept that promise, in fact, our expectations are that by 2025, Bhutan through the sale of our clean hydropower, will have the capacity to offset approximately 35 million tonnes of carbon per annum in the region,” he said. “This is no small feat considering Bhutan’s emissions constitute under seven percent of that figure,” he added.

“Even though we’ve contributed least to the causes of climate change, we like other LDCs are amongst the most vulnerable to its adverse impacts,” Lyonpo said. “Despite our limited resources and competing demands of development, Bhutan remains committed to the conservation of our natural heritage and in fact has consistently done more than its fair share to contribute to global efforts to combat climate change.”

While in New York, Bhutan also deposited Bhutan’s Instrument of Acceptance to the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol on September 28. The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement which spells out internationally binding emission reduction targets. The amendment establishes a second commitment period from 2013-2020 to reduce emissions by 18 percent below 1990 levels. A total of 144 ratifications are required for the amended protocol to come into force. As of September 28, 45 parties had ratified the amended protocol.

“In moving forward, the first litmus test for our commitment to action on the 2030 agenda will be whether or not we reach an ambitious and legally binding agreement at COP21,” Lyonpo said, referring to the UN climate change conference to be held in December.

“A second test of our commitment to action would be whether we are able to deliver on our promises and pledges on the means of implementation for the 2030 agenda,” he added.

It was also pointed out by the foreign minister that Bhutan has begun participating or contributing to the UN’s peacekeeping efforts. “We remain a committed partner and are working to deepen and broaden our peacekeeping engagement with the UN,” he said. “Today it is a matter of great pride that Bhutanese peacekeepers are deployed and serving in nine peacekeeping missions.”

The foreign minister also reiterated Bhutan’s call for the organisation’s Security Council to be reformed to reflect current geopolitical realities.

Gyalsten K Dorji

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