1 Bhutan

Meet Buthan: The one and only carbon negative nation in the world

With an area smaller than the Rio de Janeiro State (Brazil), and located between the first and fourth major greenhouse gases contributers (China and India), is Bhutan, the first and only country in the world that has managed to achieve the level of carbon negative. In other words, Bhutan and its 754,394 inhabitants are responsible for removing more carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere than they are capable of emitting. But how is that possible?

 

Bhutan’s monarchy constitution establishes that at least 60% of its entire territory must be kept under forest cover, which in turn function as a greenhouse gas (GHG) sink. Additionaly, its energy matrix is mostly composed of renewable energy sources, in particular hydroeletric energy that is driven by the mountainous charactheristic terrain of the Himalaya region. His Indian neighbors take adventage of this benefit, being the main buyer of energy of the country[1]. Thereby, the articulation between biodiversity preservation and the adoption of renewable energies are what make the country, internally a carbon sink, and externally a carbon offset.

 

But it doesn’t stop there. The country’s legislative apparatus is extremely strict about crimes against biodiversity. The production and trade of tobacco, the use of plastic bags, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified seeds/crops are all banned in Bhutan.  The legislation also prevents the slaughter of animals for consumption, although eating meat is not prohibited by the government. It should be remembered that the dominant religion in the country is Buddhism, in which compassion is preached with other living beings, including animals, and the precept of not killing. In addition, the nation is already in the process of reducing paper consumption, starting with government offices, and replacing conventional vehicles with electric vehicles.

 

Perhaps you have heard of the country as the “Kingdom of Happiness”. This denomination is attributed to the fact that national policy and Bhutan’s development plans are guided by the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH). With the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the mid-1970s Bhutan devised and created the GNH as an indicator of the happiness of the country’s population, based on four pillars: i) socioeconomic, sustainable and equitable development; ii) environmental conservation; iii) preservation and promotion of culture; iv) governance. The basic elements for calculating GNH are somewhat complicated to measure: physical and mental health, job satisfaction, social happiness, political, economic and environmental well-being.

 

Unfortunately, following the course of climate change, happiness in Bhutan will not be so long-lasting. Although it is the only negative carbon country on the planet, the population of Bhutan is increasingly suffering from catastrophic events intensified by the phenomenon of climate change such as flooding, landslides and the melting of Himalayan glaciers. The latter deserves special attention considering that the entire river system (and therefore hydroelectric infrastructure) in the country is fed by glaciers, the main economic activity in the country is agriculture, and a large part of the population lives along the river valleys.

 

Bhutan is just one of several countries that will pay a high price for the consequences of a phenomenon to which they have not even contributed to their causes. It is in this sense that other nations must do everything in their power to confront this global phenomenon that will impact everyone on the planet no matter where. Imagine if Brazil, with an extension approximately 220 times larger than Bhutan’s area, adopted at least the principle of forest cover protection in 60% of its territory?

 

Interested in the country? Have you considered a trip to Bhutan? Keep in mind that until 1974 the nation was closed to tourists. Currently foreigners need to pay a daily fee of USD $200 – 250 per person (depending on the time of year) which includes hotel accommodation, meals, a tour guide who will accompany you throughout your trip, and transportation (excluding international flights)[2]. The good part is the money raised from tourism is partially reinvested in public policies and in promotion of essential services for the population.

 

 

[1] Alam F., Alam Q., Reza S., Khurshid-ul-Alam S.M., Saleque K., Chowdhury H.Sourcing Green Power in Bhutan: A Review. Energy Procedia, 110 (2017), pp. 586-591
[2] Tourism council of Bhutan. Minimum Daily Package. Disponível em:< https://www.tourism.gov.bt/about-us/minimum-daily-package>.

 

 

More information can be found in:

 

World Health Organization. Bhutan. Disponível em:< http://origin.searo.who.int/bhutan/about/about_bhutan/en/>

UNICEF. Bhutan. Disponível em:< https://data.unicef.org/country/btn/>.

The World Bank. World Development Indicators. Bhutan. Disponível em:<https://databank.worldbank.org/reports.aspx?source=2&country=BTN>.

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