Bhutan absorbs three times as much carbon dioxide as it emits by keeping forests big and human development small!
Bhutan is not only “the happiest country on Earth,” it is also the greenest.
Couched between two polluting industrial giants – China and India – the tiny Himalayan country has made sustainability part of its national identity.
In the 1970s, the Buddhist nation’s fourth king developed the concept of Gross National Happiness with the intent of making it the happiest country in the world. The four pillars of his strategy include sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation and good governance.
Careful management of its resources enables the government to provide 100-percent free healthcare and education to all its citizens.
“Gross national happiness is more important than gross national product,” said Bhutan’s prime minister Tshering Tobgay in a 2016 TED Talk:
Togbay says Bhutan emits a little over 2 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, but their forests sequester more than three times that amount, making the country a net carbon sink of more than 4 million tons of CO2 each year.
Additionally Bhutan exports most of the renewable electricity it generates from its fast-flowing rivers, offsetting another 6 million tons of CO2 in other countries.
How they did it:
1. Protecting forests. A constitutional requirement that a minimum of 60% of the nation’s land remain under forest cover and a ban on export logging. 72% is currently under “pristine” forest cover, which is why the country is one of the few remaining biodiversity “hot spots” in the world, Tobgay says.
2. Keeping population in check. Part of what enables Bhutan to preserve its forests is a relatively low population to landmass ratio, similar to that of Switzerland and other countries with high quality of life.The government is taking measures to slow population growth (mainly through family planning and contraception education) to keep it that way.
3. Providing free electricity to rural farmers, so they don’t have to use firewood to cook food.
4. Investing in sustainable transportation, subsidizing the purchase of electric vehicles.
5. Subsidizing cost of LED lights.
6. Going paperless. The country’s government and schools have gone fully paperless.
7. Planting trees throughout country. Bhutan has won world records for planting the most trees per hour.
“It is our protected areas that are at the core of our carbon-neutral strategy,” Tobgay says. “They are our lungs.”
Today, more than half the country is protected as national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. These areas are all connected, allowing wild animals like tigers to roam throughout the country.
Bhutan is also aiming for 100% organic food production by 2020 and zero waste by 2030.
By 2020, Tobgay expects Bhutan will be exporting three times as much clean electricity as it was in 2016.
“If we were to harness even half of our hydropower potential, clean energy exports would offset something like 50 million tons of co2 per year, more than what the entire city of New York generates in a year,” he said.
Tobgay says global warming is causing Himalayan glaciers to melt causing flash floods, land slides and massive destruction in Bhutan:
“My country and my people have done nothing to contribute to global warming, but we are already bearing the brunt of it.”
“We made the promise to remain carbon neutral in 2009 in Copenhagen, but no one heard us because they were all arguing over who was to blame,” he said. “Last summer in Paris (in 2015) we reiterated our promise.” This time people heard it and were ready to work together, he said.
“If commitments made by all countries in Paris are kept, we’ll be closer to containing global warming by 2 degrees celsius.”