Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay and his delegation who are attending the United Nations General Assembly can walk around New York with their heads held high. The United Nations have adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the new development goals that will guide nations for the next decade and beyond.
The goals are not new to Bhutan. In fact we are already well on track in pursuing some of those goals well before they were adopted. Thanks to the advantage of a late entry into development process and a visionary leadership that had the wisdom to protect the natural environment, of the 17 goals earmarked to be achieved by 2030, most are in line with the noble development philosophy, Gross National Happiness, initiated by His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.
The SDG goals like protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests and halting and reversing land degradation and biodiversity loss by 2030 mirrors GNH’s pillar of environment conservation. What Bhutan can proudly show other nations is that the goals if followed with commitment can work.
We have a host of legislation starting with the Constitution that mandates the maintenance of 60 percent forest coverage for all times to come. We have legislation that protects the land, water, and biodiversity. As we reflect on the unanimous adoption of the SDG goals we should consider ourselves lucky as our visionary leaders have paved the way for us long before the world’s great leaders thought of this.
As the Prime Minister proudly shares the success of the country in line with the goals at talks and seminars, we can only look back in awe and think of protecting this legacy so that we build on the good fortunes we were bestowed.
Today, even with growing pressures from development needs and business opportunities, we have not diverted from the noble philosophy. As long as we are guided by this development philosophy, we should be able to resist lobby groups and political interests and thus need not sacrifice our environment.
If we are assured of a balanced and sustainable development growth, we can focus on the other goals where we are lagging behind. The efforts and initiatives are there, but we are still debating about, for instance, the deteriorating quality of education, food insecurity, growing consumerism that will challenge us in achieving the goals.
We have also seen a lot of initiatives that have had limited success. The government has revised tax on import of vehicles, but the number of vehicles on the road is increasing. The electric vehicle initiative is not picking up and our food import bill is increasing even with full attention to increase local produce. These challenges will need a lot of rethinking.
2030 is a long time away and we have ample to rethink and reprioritise our own development goals. A good start has been made with the launch of the mass awareness programme on the development goals focusing on children.