Countries around the world are seeing an increase in the number of incidents and intensity of climate-induced disasters. Some communities are visibly losing their motherland to the rise in sea level.

The mosquito, one of the world’s deadliest vectors, is normally found in hot and humid conditions, but changing climate is forcing them to migrate upwards. A herder in Lunana says that the mosquito is now frequently seen in their community amid glaciers, located about 3,400 metres above sea level. Snowfall in Bhutan has become erratic and is now a rare treat for children. Changes in fruiting patterns are disrupting crop yield, impacting food self-sufficiency for subsistence farmers, who make up over 60 percent of Bhutan’s population.

As presented in the UNDP’s recent policy brief on Confronting Climate Change to Save the Third Pole, the Himalayas could lose up to two-thirds of its ice by 2100, causing acute water and food shortages for over two billion people in the downstream river basins of South and East Asia. The brief calls for urgent actions – regionally and globally – including transitioning out of fossil fuels to shifting people to clean cooking and heating, changing agricultural practices, and reimagining urban spaces.

We all see and feel the impact of climate change. There has now been more than sufficient scientific evidence to dispel the climate sceptics: many governments, policy makers, thought leaders, and futurists have indeed identified climate emergency as the biggest challenge facing humanity today and beyond. We, humans, are on the brink of causing our extinction. The threat is real and close. We have no time to lose. It is now or never for saving the planet and humanity.

As a carbon-negative country, Bhutan is well-positioned to raise its ambition. In 2009 the country pledged to remain carbon neutral for all times to come, way before the 2015 Paris Agreement brought the global community together for climate action to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degree Celsius by 2050. Bhutan reiterated its carbon-neutral promise during the Paris Agreement and subsequent national communications to the UNFCCC.

To establish a sound basis for setting ambitious targets, Bhutan embarked on a GHG Inventory exercise under the Third National Communication – an exemplary scientific approach to build evidence. As of 2015, Bhutan’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emission was 3,571 kilo tonne carbon dioxide equivalent (ktCO2e), while its carbon sink sequestered 9,421 ktCO2e resulting in a net sequestration of 5,670 ktCO2e.

This is impressive. But as the urbanisation and economic growth of the country progress, we must not remain complacent. Between 1994 and 2015, Bhutan’s GHG emissions have increased by 126 percent, with a significant rise in the energy sector with 86 percent (primary contributor being road transport) and the manufacturing sector with 79 percent.

On June 5, the World Environment Day, Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck graced the occasion, as the Royal Patron for the environment, and launched Bhutan’s second Nationally Determined Contributions or NDC, Third National Communication to the UNFCCC and other key documents including the Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDS) for the four key sectors covering food security, human settlement, industries, and surface transport. Recognising the increasing trend of GHG emissions, ahead of the COP26 in Glasgow, Bhutan designed these low emission development pathways to fulfill its carbon-neutral pledge through targeted mitigation actions. The second NDC has enhanced GHG and non-GHG targets, and Bhutan elevated the level of its ambition.

The commitments must go beyond words. The ambitions translated into targets will need to be supported by required policy frameworks and resources. Meeting these targets would not be without challenges due to competing priorities and resource constraints as an LDC. Finance, technology transfer, and capacity building are all necessary ingredients for successful implementation.

Most importantly, sectors shall take ownership and work with all stakeholders including local governments, civil society organisations, and the private sector.  A whole of the government and society approach, going beyond institutional boundaries, is needed. This will be a true test of the spirit of collaboration.

The “climate heat” is literally and figuratively rising. As the 2015 Paris Agreement sets a global goal to reach net-zero emissions in the second half of the century, more governments are translating this goal into national strategies, setting out visions of a carbon-free future by removing fossil fuel subsidies, embracing green solutions, reducing deforestation, and promoting renewable energy. In the lead-up to the landmark COP26 meeting in November, efforts to generate robust economic growth post COVID through green investments are gaining momentum. The upcoming High-Level Energy Dialogue chaired by the UN Secretary General and co-chaired by UNDP Administrator in September will be a first of its kind in 20 years and signifies the world’s growing attention on renewable energy as a viable solution to addressing climate change and attaining sustainable development.

For Bhutan, investing in low emission development offers the potential to mitigate GHG emissions of 2,148 ktCO2e per year up to 2030. Not only does it increase our carbon budget but also attracts a suite of public climate finance and market-based mechanisms. To implement all the mitigation activities identified in the sectoral low emission development strategies till 2030, an estimated investment of USD 3.3 billion will be required where the major investment requirements are in the transport sector. It is time to introduce climate-friendly mass transit including bus rapid transport, light rail transport, and low emission passenger cars.

As Bhutan looks at economic recovery for the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis presents once in a generational opportunity to green the brown sector, align recovery efforts with climate goals, and pursue a resilient and sustainable economy. Taking inspiration from the past is important but a greater sense of urgency would save Bhutan from being in the shadow of accelerated and bold efforts spearheaded by others. Now is the time for all of us in Bhutan to reinvigorate our climate action and invest in bold solutions. And the good news is that the second NDC and LEDS do offer useful guiding light. UNDP remains committed to strengthening partnerships with national stakeholders in their implementation.

Contributed by 

Azusa Kubota 

Resident Representative, UNDP Bhutan