The National Forest Inventory conducted in the 11th Five Year Plan confirms that Bhutan’s forest cover stands at 71 per cent today, which is 11 per cent more than the constitutional requirement. This remarkable figure translates to 816 million trees with an additional 67, 000 acres having been reforested in the last five years.
Inventories of important animals were also conducted which showed the presence of 96 snow leopards and 103 tigers. Animals such as takin and elephants are also being counted.
Despite being a small country, Bhutan continues to rise in stature as a leader in sustainability and environment conservation in the world. “Beyond anything, this is the result of the leadership and wisdom of our kings, especially His Majesty the Drukgyal Zhiba who has been in the forefront of key environmental initiatives,” said Lyonchhen in his State of the Nation Report.
Lyonchhen said, “Because of such leadership, Bhutan is the only country in the world that is carbon negative and pledged to remain carbon neutral for all times to come. This commitment of the government is a testament to the importance placed on the environment and the need to preserve it for future generations as well. In conformity to this commitment, government approved and adopted more than 12 environment related policies and strategies in the current plan”.
He said, “In the current plan, in order to complement efforts in conserving and protecting the environment, the government also initiated programs like 100 per cent electricity coverage for all households, 100 units free electricity to rural households, Rural LPG scheme in eight dzongkhags and tree plantation throughout the country”.
Despite many initiatives, Bhutan continues to face numerous environment related challenges such as human wild life conflicts, conflict of economic growth versus environment protection and illegal wildlife trade among others.
External funds to mitigate and address such challenges are becoming increasingly harder to mobilize. This has led to the establishment of Bhutan for Life fund which is an innovative long term solution for sustained flow of fund to ensure protection of biodiversity on the one hand while enhancing the livelihoods of the rural people. With support from individuals and institutions both with and outside the country, close to Nu 3 billion has already been raised, most of which shall be spent in the next five years.
Lyonchhen said, “Bhutan has already taken a cautious approach to development and on many issues placed environment at the forefront of development. While we acknowledge and appreciate the global recognition of our efforts, we call for more commitment from the world towards countries like Bhutan that have historically been ecologically responsible”.
He said, “Apart from carbon neutral pledge, we have dedicated over 50 per cent of our country as protected biological corridors and restricted development in these areas. We have also adopted high environmental standards and law relative to our country’s development status and competitiveness”.
“Therefore I would like to remind people that while environment will continue to be a national priority, poverty alleviation and responsible economic development will be equally important and this is also recognized within the international climate framework and sustainable development goals”, he added.