Given that the conservation of environment has been recognized as one of the four pillars of the Gross National Happiness (GNH), Bhutan has committed to remain carbon neutral at the 2009 Conference of Parties in Copenhagen, which was further reaffirmed at the 2015 Paris agreement to maintain a healthy balance between development and conservation of the environment.
With the majority of the population dependent on agriculture, and the economy heavily reliant on hydropower and tourism, climate change has serious implications on Bhutan’s socioeconomic development- which is why the ensuring a healthy ecosystem services has been identified as one the National Key Result Areas (NKRA) in the 12th plan.
The GNH Survey 2015 found a high prevalence of pro-environmental beliefs among the population. However, a slight difference exists between rural and urban residents with more rural residents with strong pro-environmental beliefs as compared to urban. A large majority of the population reported that they feel highly responsible for conserving the natural environment, according to the 12th plan document.
It is stated that with rapid pace of socio-economic development, pressures on the natural environment are rising. The conversion of forests into other land uses is increasing. It has been found that between 2008 and 2014, 9,426 Hectares (Ha) of state reserved forest land were lost to construction of transmission lines, 5462 Ha to farm roads and 5,208 Ha to long term land lease. Moreover, between 2011 and 2012, 153 Ha of state land were allocated from protected areas and 2,561 Ha of land from other state land for developmental purposes leading to habitat fragmentation.
In order to address the challenges and achieve this NKRA, various strategies like innovative financing for sustainable management of protected areas, initiated payment for ecosystem services and strengthened research on biodiversity information has been identified. Sustainable natural resources management and utilization and enhanced environment service delivery will be implemented to achieve the NKRA. In regard to the climate change, the 12th plan document states that Bhutan is a net sink with an estimated sequestration capacity of 6.3 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year with an annual emission of 2.1 million tons.
The document states, “Bhutan’s mountainous terrain and variation in agro-ecological zone renders it vulnerable to impacts of climate change and disasters. There are increasing incidences of forest fire and GLOF, drying up of water sources, outbreak of crop diseases, windstorm and erratic and high intensity of rainfall. In addition to this climate induced disasters, Bhutan falls within active seismic zone IV and V of the Indian tectonic plate where V comprises the area most at risk. Experts have predicted incidence of a major earthquake in the zone.”
Mainstreaming environment in all sectoral and local government plans, managing waste through Pay as You Throw Approach or Big Bin Small Bin approach, enhancing mitigation and adaptation to climate change and strengthening preparedness and response to both natural and manmade disasters are some of the strategies identified to address the challenges.
Enhancement of solid waste prevention and management, strengthening ambient air quality monitoring system and environment-flow standards, low emission and enhanced adaptation to climate change, enhancement of disaster risk reduction and management, climate smart and disaster resilient development and safe, reliable eco-friendly and sustainable surface transport are the programs to be implemented in the 12th plan.
Bhutan is also a biodiversity hotspot with over 6000 species of flora and approximately 1900 species of fauna, the 12th plan document says.
Today, approximately 71 per cent of the country’s total area is maintained under forest cover of which 51.4 per cent is protected areas, 8.6 per cent as ecological corridors and the royal botanical parks constitutes another 0.1 per cent.