Carbon neutral-but at what cost?

Bhutan made a declaration of remaining carbon neutral in the Convention of Parties (CoP) 15 at Copenhagen, Denmark.

This step is bold for a small Least Developed Country (LDC) like Bhutan but this leaves us with a question: Does this step put a cap on our developmental activities?

Instances of conflict between environment and economic development have surfaced time and again in the media.

The Takin corridor grabbed headlines a few years ago. The environmentalists got their way and the development was to take place somewhere else.

The Bhutanese reported on the probability of increasing humanwildlife conflict at the upcoming industrial estate in Jigmeling, Gelephu.

Moreover, we had most of our cabinet members supporting the ‘move’ to go ahead with Shingkhar- Gorgan road which passes through a park, the Thrumshingla National Park. While environmentalists took on to say nay, the responses to go ahead with the road was overwhelming during a live national television debate.

This I see is not the end of it, even though it has been decided that a farm road would be built in place of a proper road. As we go on, these kinds of conflicts would keep coming. While this makes my sustainability as an environment journalist easier with loads of stories, it definitely is not for the conservation sector.

The question is not about who wins. Given the circumstances at this time even when our forest cover is huge and developmental activities are slowly picking up, what would happen a few decades down theline?

Concerns over the sustainability of remaining carbon neutral have been raised and opinionated in the media earlier. It was reflected that our policy makers should start thinking about maintaining zero carbon emissions.

But this just brings out the skeptic in me. We are all guided by the acts, rules, regulations and guidelines to conserve our environment. But to what practical level can they be followed? The Forest and Nature Conservation Act (FNCA) was put to trial with the Shingkhar-Gorgan road. The act despite stating that not even a fence could be constructed in the Core zone of a park, was not adhered to. Of course, the rules were not broken on the paper, but the very decision of having a road speaks a lot for itself.

Development is necessary. So is the environment.

As we are all walking towards the carbon neutral way (with a strategy soon to be in place) there are a lot of question we need to ask ourselves and do we have an answer?

At the climate negotiations, hundreds of officials worldwide meet. Hundreds of issues and positions are presented. Even more sections of texts from various plans, protocols and other policy documents are referred. The confusion for someone trying to understand the whole procedure does not

stop here. The different positions for climate change negotiation is embedded with an underlying interest- what would we gain if we say this, what would we lose if we do that?

The declaration, I feel is ideal in theory but how practical is it?

We are in a comfortable position today with carbon emission level at 2,040 Gigagram (two times lower than what the Nu 700 billion forest cover can sequestrate). The per capita emission in 1978 was only 0.01 metric tons of carbon which increased to 0.16 metric tons in 2006. But what lies for us tomorrow?

With a binding declaration like carbon neutrality, are we not supposed to have more factories? Would we have to stop emitting?

The declaration is our objective, our aspiration and our responsibility which means there is no additional help from outside. If we fail to live up to it, wouldn’t our negotiation stand weaken?

Moreover, the funds coming from the developed countries are further going to be scrutinized. Wouldn’t this declaration leave our hands tied? How far would Bhutan be able to control its development to safeguard the environment to keep up with the declaration?

I am no expert but my concerns are genuine. Things have to be taken seriously and it requires proper scrutiny before we make some big mistakes.

(Kuenzang Choden is a reporter

with The Bhutanese)

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One comment

  1. Good write up n researched

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