The 118th wealthiest country in the world, Bhutan is also the only carbon-negative country in the world. This means it absorbs more carbon than it produces. But how?
Back in 2008, Bhutan made official that 60% of the country must remain forested at all times to protect its natural resources. With 72% of the country currently covered by forest, the country is able to absorb 6 million tonnes of carbon per year, while only producing 1.5 million tonnes.
Bhutan measures its development by Gross National Happiness (GNA) rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). With “environmental conservation” one of the four principles of GNA, people in Bhutan are more driven towards protecting the environment than just earning money as in GDP-focused countries.
And it’s reflected in the workforce; 56.3% of all Bhutanese are involved with agriculture, forestry or conservation. In fact, planting trees is even a way to celebrate- in April 2016 108,000 trees were planted for the birth of the new prince.
Although Bhutan is carbon-negative, only 60% of it’s energy is green. This comes as it exports 75% of its hydroelectricity to India, making it the country’s largest export. But even despite this, the country supplies free electricity to rural farmers so they don’t have to use firewood.
In 2011, Bhutan launched its National Organic Program, aiming to make all of the country’s food organic by 2020. Providing financial support to farmers who are taught effective organic farming practices and how to make money, the country aims to decrease its dependence on imported food, remain climate-neural and achieve its zero-waste goal.
Although televisions were banned in Bhutan until 1999 to protect its values, it has begun to subsidise LED lights. The country also has a partnership with Nissan to provide hundreds of electric cars- with the promise of thousands more to come. In fact, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay wants to eventually convert all of Bhutan’s vehicles to electric power.
Bhutan is famous for its tightly controlled tourist policy- charging tourists $250 per day to visit the country with a mandatory guide. Although tourism is an industry the kingdom would like to develop, it has previously said it has restricted tourist access to protect its forests.
To maintain and improve its conservation efforts, the country is trying to raise $40 million from international donors. The government plans to use the money to hire more park rangers and scientists, build tourism and compensate local communities in parks. One idea is to compensate farmers whose cows are eaten by tigers, to prevent them from killing tigers. The final aim of the government’s conservation efforts is to raise taxes and receive enough revenue from its parks to be financially self-sufficient.
To conclude, Bhutan has become the world’s greenest country due to its government’s and people’s strong commitment to environmental conservation, rather than pure economic growth.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.