Yam Kumar Poudel

“My village is in great danger because of Global Warming. The glaciers and snow on our mountains are melting, the glacial lakes above our village are getting bigger every day. 

“I am sure it may cause a big flood in our village at any time. And we have to be in constant fear every day and night,” eight-year-old Chimi Yangzom from Lunana, the most remote gewog in Bhutan, wrote in her letter. 

The class two student of Mendrelthang Extended Classroom in Lunana addressed the letter to the President of the 77th UN General Assembly in New York.. Chimi expressed her concerns about glacial lakes in the mountains becoming bigger due to global warming threatening her village downstream. She said that innocent people in her village were suffering because of others’ evil actions.  

Namgay Tshering, a class eight student of Laya Middle Secondary School, an adjacent gewog to Lunana echoes Chimi’s concerns. 

Namgay, who migrates to the warmer valley in Punakha every winter with his parents and the community, observed that the vegetation in his village is not growing well. The formerly frigid Laya region is suddenly warm, he said. “There hasn’t been as much snowfall as there used to be.” 

In one of the worst tragedies in the country’s history, 10 members from Namgay village died after the tents they were sleeping in were swept away by a landslide near Tshari-Jathang, Ri-Druzhi in Laya, early morning on June 17, 2021.

According to records maintained by the National Center for Hydrology and Meteorology, Cyclone Aila in 2009 claimed 12 lives and caused US$17 million worth of damage. 

The July  2023 flash flood in Ungar village in Lhuentse killed 23 people including six children and was one of Bhutan’s significant water-induced disasters over the past three decades.

Both Chimi and Namgay wanted more to be done to combat climate change, including increased supply of green houses, pollution control measures, and increased advocacy by national leaders.

The concerns shared by Chimi and Namgay were shared by a group of Bhutanese youth who made about 10 pledges from the youth in Bhutan at the recently concluded Conference of Parties 28 (COP28) in Dubai. 

Tenzin Dorji, a student of Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law (JSW) shared the declarations to an audience composed of foreign participants and delegates from Bhutan including government officials. 

“We will be the agents of change in realising Bhutan’s vision of zero-waste society by replacing all single-use plastics with biodegradable alternatives by 2023 and by taking actions to reduce and recycle household wastes including plastic.”

He shared the need to advocate and raise public awareness on climate change and meaningful solutions, and called on the government to include and promote disaster resilience as a part of the school curricula—reduction of individual carbon footprint was also a must. 

“The government must accelerate the use of renewable energy and phase out fossil fuels over time involving all agencies in equal participation,” he said. 

He called on the need for actively promoting engagement of youth in climate induced disasters and emergencies programmes —fostering volunteerism and making a difference in the lives of people vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Lekzang Pakila Dorji, another youth representative from JSW School of Law said the declaration was drafted by 60 students of JSW and the College of Natural Resources. “All Bhutanese are trustees of the natural environment and this declaration is our urgent call to action,” she said. 

The declaration was formally adopted on December 11, 2021 involving signatures and acceptance from over 200,000 students across the country. 

Tenzin Tshomo, a student of Gyalpoizhing College of Information Technology (GCIT), has developed a website for bringing in the website that educates people about the diverse climatic zones in Bhutan inspiring actions to be taken in meeting the impacts of climate induced changes. “The Climate Change Museum, a website for Bhutan is a collaborative input of energy and natural resources ministry and GCIT.”

“This digital museum is a method to virtually allow a global audience to go through and explore Bhutan. The website has seven web portals each describing in detail the natural biodiversity (flora and fauna) in Bhutan—recorded in Bhutan as well as endangered,” she said. The seasonal change as well as climatic impact on agriculture, natural resources, eco-system, glacial lakes, infrastructure and tourism are part of the website. 

The website also allows the users to go through the laws and policies in enhancing environmental conservation in Bhutan among others. 

Dorji Thokmey, a student of GCIT and a youth representative of UNICEF Bhutan at COP shared his experience of being at the 28th COP. “With support from MoENR and GCIT, I developed the Bhutan Pavilion website. This website can be developed and used henceforth for Bhutan’s climate change tracking and COP journey.” 

Parties at the COP have agreed in the official COP28 negotiated text to institutionalise the role of the YCC within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. This mandates all future COP Presidencies to facilitate the meaningful participation and representation of youth in future COPs. 

At the apex level, COP28 for the first time appointed an official Youth Climate Champion (YCC), Shamma Al Mazrui, who was previously the youngest minister in the world at the age of 22. She now serves as the UAE’s Minister of Community Development.

“While many young people are already leading climate action across the globe, they still have limited input into climate policymaking,” she said. 

As per the global reports, around one billion children worldwide are currently at extreme high risk from the impacts of climate change. 

COP28 also featured the official launch of the Youth Stocktake Report by YOUNGO, the Official Children and Youth Constituency of the UNFCCC, with support from the Youth Climate Champion. It represents the first-ever comprehensive analysis of youth engagement in the UNFCCC process and provides a roadmap to enhance youth inclusion moving forward. 

The COP28 Youth Climate Delegates Program has been the largest initiative to-date to expand youth participation in the COP process, with 110 young people from around the world being empowered to drive climate action in their communities and join the COP, many of whom for the first time.

Back home, as change in climate affects the natural environment, 1,856 water sources in Bhutan are drying up and 69 sources have already dried up, according to the Department of Water.

Bhutan’s vulnerabilities include loss of life from frequent flash floods, GLOF and landslides, spread of vector-borne tropical disease (malaria, dengue) into more areas at higher elevations with warming climate, and loss of safe (drinking) water resources increasing water borne diseases.

Meanwhile, Namgay Tshering feels that climate change has to be taught to students in schools as a subject. 

Despite his lack of knowledge, he is eager to learn more about climate change; yet, the restricted resources in his village prevent him from doing so. He wishes to educate those back home about climate change and its potential effects. 

“We need to know about climate change so that we can do something about it,” he said. 

In partnership with UNICEF, Kuensel will publish a series of stories on children’s and young people’s issues as part of the new Country Programme Cycle and emerging priorities.