Many interested in conserving Bhutan’s environment: PM

During his recent US visit, lyonchoen solicited and received funds for the Bhutan for Life initiative

Conservation: Bhutan’s biggest ever project for environment conservation, worth more than USD 80M (million) will be launched in December and run for the next 15 years.

Bhutan for Life, an initiative targeted at improving conservation of the country’s protected areas, seeks to create and pump in at least USD 10M annually to manage the parks and biological corridors.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said while the country was doing its best to conserve the environment, it was not enough. “We need enhanced revenue now in the form of a fund,” he said.

 

To ensure the country remains economically and environmentally sustainable, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the government committed last July to create an innovative funding approach, called the Bhutan for Life initiative.

Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay visited the USA to solicit funds from potential donors.  The objective of the visit was to reach out to as many as possible to share the country’s conservation successes, strategies and needs.

During the visit he said, “With partners like WWF, we’ve worked diligently to protect our parks. But we see changes in our country – competing demands – so something has to give. We don’t want it to be our system of protected areas.”

To do that, the country has to make some difficult choices, he said, because, for a young democracy with a small GDP and limited revenues, choices would be difficult.

“We have the responsibility to protect the legacy of conserving the environment and hand them over to the future generations, not just of Bhutan but the world’s,” lyonchoen said.

While the protected areas were looked after to date, he said, “We can’t be sure that future governments will provide necessary resources needed for the protection of the parks.”

The prime minister said there was no surety that the parks would not be exploited for immediate economic gains.  It was for these reasons that the government was looking for funds to sustain the resources in protection of the park system in particular.

“The visit has been very successful,” he said. “We’re confident that the project will be successful.”

He said there was a lot of optimism, and almost gratitude, for the wise deeds on environment conservation and policies.

Donors have already contributed several millions of USD for the project, while many others have written to the prime minister, stating their interest to contribute.

Of the estimated USD 80M, donors’ contribution would amount to USD 40M, which is expected to come in by December this year.  The government will contribute the remaining half, which would be earned through tourism and hydropower.

The government invests USD 3M in protecting the parks system annually, which is inadequate, he said.  The government will continue to spend USD 3M each year, and draw another USD 7M every year for the project from the donation.

Lyonchoen said the government’s contribution would gradually increase over the years, until it reaches such a time when the government will be able to take on the full responsibility.

Funding generated through this initiative will be used to maintain and manage the country’s parks and wildlife corridors in perpetuity.

Sustainable economic development, such as eco-tourism and organic farming, will be allowed in protected areas, making the initiative a true example of how the Bhutanese seek balance.

Director general of forest and park services department, Chencho Norbu, who also was a member of lyonchoen’s delegation, said that the additional money would be used to set up eco lodges, information centres and other infrastructure, among others.

“Although some of the parks have been established in the early 90s, we couldn’t use them or build new infrastructure,” he said.

WWF is the principal partner providing knowledge, expertise, and coordinating the whole initiative.

WWF country representative, Dechen Dorji, said that, in the past, investors or donors did not question on the returns or results of their investment.

“There’s a lot of goodwill and resources around the world, which Bhutan could capitalise on,” he said, adding that, a lot of the time, conservation financing was short term unlike this project.

He said, over time, such investments were not coherent and didn’t generate the desired results.  The new realisation, he said, is that livelihoods and economic opportunities could not be separated from conservation.

“The project model is a robust financing model through which we do a good conservation science, at the same time protect the livelihoods of the people who live in it,” he said. “The project is timely, as the country has the greatest conservation story to tell the world.”

Bhutan is the only country with a constitutional requirement of 60 percent forest cover, with most of the current 72 percent pristine.

The initiative of the government and WWF would enable the conservation of six million acres of forests and other natural habitats that compose ten parks and 51.44 percent of country’s total landmass.

The country is a net carbon sink producing only 1.5MMT (million metric tonnes) of carbon dioxide every year, while its forests can sequester 6.3MMT annually.

Bhutan’s ecological services, such as clean water and air, among others, are estimated to be worth about USD 15.5B (billion) a year.

Comparing this to the country’s annual gross domestic product, which is USD 1.7B, there are a lot more benefits for the world, lyonchoen said. “The real benefits from Bhutan’s conservation could be much higher.”

By Tshering Palden

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