Award: The German Sustainability Award (GSA) is the recognition of the wisdom and foresight of the Kings, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, who received the award on November 25 in Düsseldorf, Germany, said.

“The fact that I am receiving it is not significant in any way. But what is very significant is that the award is the recognition of  our Kings’ commitment to not just showcase but diligently implement policies that lead to sustainable outcomes in Bhutan,” Lyonchoen told Kuensel after receiving the award.

Lyonchoen said that the German government and the people in presenting such an award have recognised the achievements of Their Majesties in the field of sustainability.

Instituted in 2008 to inspire decision makers in the public and private sectors to advocate for ecological and social sustainability, the GSA is one of the prestigious honours in Europe, which recognises outstanding achievements in sustainability. Other honorary laureates for GSA 2016 include the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and American actor Nicholas Cage.

Lyonchoen said that he got an opportunity to share Bhutan’s story during the discussion on German sustainability before the award ceremony. Sharing the legacy of His Majesty The Fourth King in developing and implementing policies on sustainability, Lyonchoen said that Gross National Happiness is a holistic approach to development. “It is an approach that seeks to carefully balance material progress with social progress, environmental protection, cultural preservation, all within the framework of good governance,” Lyonchoen said. “Gross National Happiness seeks to balance the immediate needs of the present with what is important for the future generations.

Gross National Happiness is ultimately about sustainability; the ultimate expression of sustainability is Gross National Happiness.”

Lyonchoen also spoke about the German sustainability in terms of environment, economic and social sustainability. “But to make sustainability sustainable, you require political sustainability and that is what good governance is all about,” he said. “Good governance is good for political sustainability.” In Germany, sustainability is defined as the balance and interplay of three factors- protection of the environment and natural resources (ecological dimension), improvement of living conditions for as many people as possible (social and humanitarian dimension), and consolidation of the economic foundation for acting ecologically and with social conscience (economic dimension).

To about 1,200 guests attending the award function organised by the German Sustainability Award Foundation, Lyonchoen shared that the virtuous cycle of Bhutan’s sustainability approach is unique with environment sustainability leading to economic sustainability, the proceeds of which allow social sustainability. This allows people to have a better understanding of environmental sustainability, which then leads to a better economic sustainability.

Lyonchoen said that the Fourth Druk Gyalpo ensured political sustainability by ensuring dedicated provisions in the Constitution, because the virtuous cycle cannot be taken for granted. “For sustainability in this stance is not truly sustainable without political sustainability,” he said.

Lyonchoen attributed Bhutan’s success to the true champion of sustainable development, His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who at the age of 16 envisioned the sustainable approach to development in the form of Gross National Happiness. He said that this strong legacy of sustainability continues to grow under the able leadership of His Majesty The King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

“After centuries of self-imposed isolation, Bhutan had rich and pristine forests and plenty of natural resources, but the young King, 45 years ago, refused to cut down our forests for timber and to create agricultural land,” he said. “As conventional economists, at the time must have advised him, he refused to allow large-scale mining. Instead, he built effective policies to protect the country’s environment and forests.”

As a result, Lyonchoen said that forest cover is growing and the law protects more than half of the country as national parks, national reserves and wildlife sanctuaries.

This makes Bhutan, Lyonchoen said, one of the few remaining biological hotspots in the world and a carbon sink. “Our forests sequester more than three times the amount of greenhouse gases that our entire country emits. This is why Bhutan is the only carbon neutral country,” Lyonchoen said. “So, our young King protected the forests which meant sustainable flow of water, which is used to generate clean and renewable energy,” he said, adding that the green electricity exported to India offsets about six million tonnes of carbon dioxide in India every year.

But Lyonchoen also pointed out Bhutan’s challenges. “Bhutan is not Shangri-La,” he said adding that the success of sustainable approach is already becoming a challenge with wild animals and forest cover encroaching into the farms and making life in the rural areas more difficult. “But they can be overcome if we are true to the values of GNH under the enlightened monarch who continues to work tirelessly in furthering the strong legacy of his father.”

While in Düsseldorf, Lyonchoen met the Federal Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, Dr Barbara Hendricks, Minister President of Rhineland-Pfalz and President of the Bundesrat, Malu Dreyer, and Minister for Climate Protection, Environment, Agriculture, Nature Conservation and Consumer Protection of the State of North-Rhine-Westphalia, Johan Remmel. Lyonchoen also met Dr Wolfgang Pfeiffer and Mr Cornelis Klein, Honorary Consuls of Bhutan in Germany and the Netherlands respectively, as well as Reinhard Wolf, President of the German Bhutan Himalaya Friendship Society, among others.

Lyonchoen, accompanied by his wife Tashi Doma, cabinet secretary Kunzang Wangdi and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister’s office, arrived in Singapore yesterday for a two-day working visit at the invitation of the government of Singapore. This is the first official visit by the head of the government of Bhutan to Singapore.

Rinzin Wangchuk | Düsseldorf