Chimi Dema

Recognising the potential and role of young people in tackling environmental challenges, the Young Thinkers’ Conference brought together over 70 participants to equip them with skills to become agents of change.

The Young Thinkers’ Conference is the British High Commission’s flagship foreign and security policy conference, which brings together the experts and young thinkers to discuss a range of issues.

Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck graced the opening of the conference on January 30.

Across three phases of programmes, local and a few speakers from United Kingdom, Japan, United States of America and Costa Rica delivered talks relating to environmental and climate change issues, while facilitators conducted activities to enhance leadership skills among participants.

An official with Foreign and Commonwealth Office  (FCO) in New Delhi, India, Katherine Ruan, said that as 2020 is going to be an important moment for the UK as a host for Conference of the Parties (COP) 26 and Bhutan, as a prominent party to the Convention, it was felt important to bring such conference to Bhutan.

She said that the conference was also aimed at demonstrating how to be ambitious and creative when it comes to tackling climate change.

“Bhutan has policies related to climate change and preserving forest is included in the constitution. The country has shown the creative and ambitious goal that inspires everyone around the world,” Katherine Ruan said.

Another ambitious initiative, she said, was organising E-talk for speakers of the conference and saving some thousand kilograms of carbon footprint.

UK’s Honorary Consul to Bhutan, Michael Rutland, said that while youth had the potential to bring change, talking, thinking and learning doesn’t lead to action if there is no leadership.

He said that it was important to equip youth with leadership skills in order to produce change.

Sharing about Bhutan and its role in the international climate leadership, National Environment Commission’s secretary and also the Chairperson of the Least Developed Countries’ environment group, Sonam P Wangdi, said that Bhutan has been doing its part from remaining carbon neutral to implementing nationally determined contributions to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degree celsius by the mid or end of this century.

However, he said that the effort was not enough.

Climate and environment risk is now regarded as one of the top five long-term threats to the global economy. 

“We have entered into climate emergency,” he said. 

The wildfires in Australia, heat waves in Europe and cyclones and floods in Asia recorded last year all pointed out to global warming, he said.

“What is important to note here is that global warming is real; the oceans have warmed up, the snow and ice are melting and sea level is rising,” Sonam P Wangdi said. “From the preindustrial period to today, the temperature rise  is  1.1 degree celsius.”

He said that in Bhutan and in other mountain regions, the impact was even severe.

Given that younger generations could suffer impacts of temperature rise by 2035 or mid-century, Sonam P Wangdi said that the responsibility of closing emission gap of greenhouse gases and mitigating climate change must be shifted to youth.

He said that the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change report stated it is possible to save the planet. “The damage would be reversible if we are able to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius by the mid or end of the century.”

Going by the countries plans, the world has only about eight years to achieve this and it should be reduced, he said.

Meanwhile, other speakers highlighted the importance of community and traditional, religious and cultural beliefs as a powerful mechanism in promoting environmental conservation.

The participants were also trained in carrying out negotiations pertaining to climate actions.

Another official with FCO, Georgina Ayre, said that while preparing for the COP 26, they would negotiate about bringing young participants representing various sectors of the society from across the world.

Meanwhile, the COP 26 scheduled to happen in November this year would bring about 30,000 delegates from 150 countries.

Officials said that the country would look at long -term strategies to addressing climate change.

Funded by the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office through the British Honorary Consulate in Bhutan, the conference in collaboration with the Youth Caring Community Initiative was held from January 30 to 31 in Thimphu.