YK Poudel

Bhutan needs to address key development challenges and transition to a sustainable and prosperous economy, according to ‘Bhutan Country Environmental Analysis: Taking the Green Growth Agenda Forward’ by the World Bank, which was launched on March 12 in Thimphu.

As per the environmental analysis using Green, Resilient, and Inclusive Development (GRID) parameters, that looked into four pillars—resilience, inclusion, sustainability, and efficiency – Bhutan achieved an average of 31 percent in resilience, 47 percent in inclusion, 66 percent in sustainability, and 47 percent in efficiency.

World Bank’s Country Director for Bhutan and Bangladesh, Abdoulaye Seck, said that Bhutan had proven to the world that economic growth was possible without harming the environment.

“To support its development needs, the country can mobilize additional resources by exploring opportunities to monetize emission offsets through voluntary carbon markets and enabling policies for private green investments,” he said.  “Bhutan is among the countries with the largest share of renewable natural capital per capita in the world.”

The World Bank report aims to inform policymakers to enhance efforts regarding public policies towards green, resilient, and inclusive development—highlighting challenges and possible opportunities.

Bhutan’s national development policies were inherently linked to protecting its natural capital. The 12th Five-Year Plan (2018–2023) emphasized the country’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, focusing on addressing critical challenges, particularly in improving key social outcomes, economic resilience, human capital development, managing impacts of climate change, and strengthening partnerships.

It highlighted Bhutan’s continued effort to maintain a balance between development and environmental conservation objectives—with conservation as one of the nine domains of GNH.

The protected areas system covers about 52 percent of the country’s total land area.

Bhutan is committed to remaining carbon-neutral, confirmed at the 2009 Conference of Parties in Copenhagen and further reaffirmed in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Bhutan’s 2015 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) highlighted the country’s commitment to remaining carbon-neutral, whereby GHGs would not exceed carbon sequestration by forests. It would also aim to maintain a minimum of 60 percent of forest cover.

Bhutan remained committed to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This commitment resonated in the 2020 National Environmental Strategy and the 2016 Economic Development Policy. The latter points to a conscientious choice made by the government to develop “a green and self-reliant economy sustained by a knowledge-based society guided by the philosophy of GNH.”

Bhutan implemented the 2012 National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA) tackling important climate needs, while the National Adaptation Plan was being formulated.

As per the report, Bhutan’s NAPA intends to: identify urgent and priority projects and activities that can help communities adapt to the adverse effects of climate change; seek synergies and combinations with existing Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and developmental activities with an emphasis on the impacts of climate change; and integrate climate change risks into the national planning process.

The National Adaptation Plan focused on the medium to long term, to reduce vulnerability, by integrating adaptation into development planning and implementing priority adaptation actions. In addition, disaster management initiatives were underway at national and local levels to improve disaster preparedness and response.

These results set Bhutan apart as a global model for sustainability. “Deforestation has nearly come to a halt since 2000,” according to the report. Bhutan had relatively low rates of land degradation and was among the most biodiverse countries in the world, with a large range of habitat types.

Low population, high renewable energy consumption rate, and comparatively minimal land conversion rates were credited for minimal GHG emissions in Bhutan. While emissions per capita had increased by 50 percent over the past decade, this was not yet a major concern due to the very low baseline.