One of the biggest issues in Bhutan’s conservation story so far has been the sacrifices made by local communities, farmers and the nation to protect Bhutan’s pristine forests with little or no economic returns.
It now appears that the world is starting to ‘put its money where its mouth is,’ in recognizing Bhutan’s conservation efforts by contributing to create an approximate USD 40 mn fund to be set up before the end of 2015.
This was the main outcome of the 10 day long visit of Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay to the United States of America from March 15th to March 24th 2015 where he had gone to promote the ‘Bhutan for Life’ project. The principal partner for Bhutan here is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) who will help with the coordination and also in raising funds.
Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay addressing a special press conference on the issue said that that the upcoming fund will have a 15 year period of expenditure. He said that main condition here is that while international donors provide an approximate USD 40 mn dollar fund by 2015 Bhutan over the next 15 years will also have to invest an equivalent amount or more in an increasing from its own resources into conservation. The final amount could go slightly up or down.
Lyonchhen giving an example said, “In the first year of USD 10 mn around USD 7 mn would be from the donors fund and the rest of the USD 3 mn from the government. Gradually the government’s share would increase over the years.”
This according to the PM was sustainable as over the years Bhutan’s revenue from hydropower, tourism and other sources all related to the benefits of conservation would increase and so a part of that could be used to meet the government’s increasing financial commitments.
The Director General of Department of Forests and Parks Chencho Norbu said that Bhutan was already spending a lot on conservation through salaries, animal surveys, parks protection etc. He said the additional funds would also be investments in conservation and be used to promote and strengthen eco-tourism whereby local communities can also benefit.
WWF Country Representative Dechen Dorji said that ‘Bhutan for Life’ is based on the ‘Wall Street Model’. He said conservation funding in the past was a one way street but now there was a strong investment component and there would be actual returns from the project for the beneficiaries.
He said the whole project was designed to be a funding of a more permanent nature and it would greatly help in not only conservation but also improving the livelihoods of local communities which is very vital.
“The government has taken the right initiative in Bhutan to launch this project and apart from the expertise and resources in our network there other partners like private foundations, bilateral organizations, multilateral agencies like Global Environment Fund, Asian Development Bank and other stakeholders who will come for the long term vision of Bhutan For Life project,” he said.
Dechen said the timing was also great as Bhutan had a great conservation story to tell the world. Dechen said that WWF had been a partner of Bhutan in conservation since 1977 which is over four decades. He said that the funds would allow Bhutan to have a lot of capital investment done.
The PM pointed out that by Constitution Bhutan was under 60 percent forest cover while it already had 72 percent forest cover on the ground. He said 51 percent of the total land area was protected as 10 parks, reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. In addition to this all the protected areas were connected to each other through biological corridors.
Lyonchhen also said that not only had Bhutan declared itself to be a carbon neutral country but it was also a carbon negative as every year while Bhutan produced only 1.5 mn metric tons of carbon it absorbed far more at 6.3 mn metric tons.
“In addition, scientists who have studied our eco-system using satellite imagery and statistical models have said that the ecological services provided to the world by our eco system is at USD 15.5 bn a year compared to our total GDP of USD 1.7 bn,” said Lyonchhen.
He said that one source of carbon was the western style of farming and even there Bhutan had worked to ensure bio-diversity.
The PM said that the country had worked hard to protect the legacy of His Majesty the Fourth King in nurturing the environment and handing it to future generations and it had done so even with a young democracy with small GDP and limited resources.
“I am not sure if future governments would provide the same resources for the Parks or ensure that parks are not exploited for immediate gain. That is why we have to look for sustainable resources in protecting the environment and park system.” said the PM.
The PM said that this would be the third such model of the WWF as it had earlier been implemented in the Arc of Life project in the Amazon and also in a project in Costa Rica.
According the Lyonchhen when people found out about the project in USA there was great deal of appreciation for the project and also a great deal of gratitude for Bhutan’s Kings for the wise environmental policies and foresight.
The project already has garnered considerable interest with several people coming forward and some committing millions of dollars.
The unique nature of the project ensures that people can only start donating money once the full commitment of USD 40 mn is there and money can only be start to spent once all the targets and various policies and rules are in place. This is meant to increase donor sense of confidence that their money is going to a full project.
The PM said that the project would help tourism in these areas so that local communities could benefit, there would be employment created and as a result less rural urban migration. The PM talked of some potential investments like counting and finding out wildlife to preserve them, building proper tourism facilities, having elephants in the south to transport tourists, toilet for tourists etc.
Lyonchhen said that apart from individuals and international agencies the government would also bilaterally approach countries like India and Bangladesh and donors in them as Bhutan’s conservation efforts were also helping them.
According to the PM, Bhutan is already carrying out a lot of conservation activities like a national forestry inventory to check the state of the forests, a tiger survey had just been completed and so far 58 tigers had been spotted including those with children but the counting was still going on, the snow leopard survey had just begun and the migratory patterns of the masher was also being studied.
Donors told the Bhutanese delegation that Bhutan should project itself as a role model to the world and the world should know about the role of the Kings of Bhutan in preserving the environment.
A release issued by the Foreign Ministry said that during the various events to promote BFL, Lyonchhen highlighted the pioneering and instrumental role that His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo played in the success of Bhutan’s environmental policies. It says Bhutan’s environment policies dates back to the 1970s, when His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo made conservation of the environment a key pillar of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness development philosophy.