Like every year, we celebrated the Word Environment Day yesterday. But the international day this year should be a good reminder to mankind of what it has done to the environment.

With several countries imposing lockdown since the Coronavirus first appeared in China, a notable difference was in the environment- the surrounding around us. Air quality has largely improved in megacities around the world to the extent that millions of people for the first time caught a glimpse of the Mount Everest from hundreds of miles afar.

In many metropolitan cities, residents were taken aback when they got a clear view of monuments in the middle of city as skies cleared of pollutants. When it came to pollution, Covid-19 did in about two months what governments couldn’t do in decades with regulations.

As industries came to a standstill, millions of vehicles remained parked and skies became clear of airplanes, the earth breathed again. It showed how human activity is responsible for the pollution, the change in weather patterns and climate change. At home, some are linking the cool summer, cold for some, to the cleaner air that is circulating in the sub continent.

When the pandemic gets over, life will return to normal. The expectation is a new normal learning from the Covid-19 experience. However, judging from what we see in countries relaxing the lockdown, a new normal is a far cry. Cleaner air, cleaner water, less waste, lower noise level that we appreciated over two months and letting the environment regenerate is what many expect. This should be an import lesson when the battle against Covid-19 is won.

In Bhutan, we know that our environment is in a good state. We are known for our pristine environment, as a global hotspot. We have rich forest cover, low pollution, abundant wildlife, clean air, and generally healthy living space. But this is not so much our doing. It is the fruit of wise leadership that has given importance to environment since the development process began. We were guided by a middle path policy.

The pressure on the environment is increasingly felt as we “modernise”. There is pressure on land, air, rivers and life itself. And our policies are conflicting or not sensitive to the environment. We talk of vehicular pollution, but cannot control the number of vehicles. The pressure from urbanisation has turned rice fields into concrete jungles while buildings are quickly replacing prayer flags on the hillsides. Waste has become a mounting problem as we are driven by consumerism.  We may take pride in clean energy generated from rivers, but we import fossil fuel equivalent to the electricity we export.

However, there is hope to guide us back onto the middle path. The National Environment Strategy 2020, The Middle Path launched yesterday emphasises on the vision of a healthy and sustainable environment for present and future generations in pursuit of Gross National Happiness.

The strategy will shape the country’s 21st Century Economic Road Map that is being finalised. The strategy, which will be the foundation to support the Road Map allays fear that in our pursuit of an 21st century economic road map, we would forget important priorities like the environment, social and cultural aspects.

We are also fortunate that Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen is the Royal Patron of the environment and that the leadership and guidance in preserving our environment would continue.