Every country around the world is fighting climate change in their own way, some successfully and others less so. However, even the grand sum of these efforts hardly seems to be enough. No matter how many international conferences and summits are convened, the truth of the matter is that governments of the world are seriously struggling to reduce their carbon emissions. Some, in fact, don’t even bother to make an attempt, hoping that things will just get better on their own.
However, one tiny country has begun to gain global recognition for its revolutionary climate change policies.
That remarkable country is the Kingdom of Bhutan. Nestled within the Himalayas, Bhutan is barely visible on the map of the world. It is a landlocked country between India and China, and despite being a poor, tiny nation, it is the first and only country to officially be carbon negative.
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What Is A Carbon Footprint?
Before addressing what it means to be carbon negative, we first need to understand the concept of a Carbon Footprint. Every individual on Earth has a carbon footprint, which can be defined as the amount of greenhouse gases emitted directly and indirectly by an individual’s daily activities. For example, a person would directly produce carbon dioxide by burning firewood to cook his or her food. Another person might add to their footprint indirectly by buying an industrially-made product whose creation involved a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. Driving cars, flying in airplanes, buying an endless stream of electronic devices, and even eating meat… all of this adds up to your personal carbon footprint, i.e., your contribution to the existing environmental crisis.
Every individuals’ carbon footprints, as well as other large-scale factors like the degree of industrialization, land-use policies, amount of international shipping, etc. add up to a country’s total carbon footprint, which is usually calculated in tons of CO2. According to data calculated in 2013, China unsurprisingly has the largest carbon footprint on the planet with 10.5 million kilotons of greenhouse emissions. It accounts for more than one-quarter of the global carbon footprint! India has the fourth largest carbon footprint at 2.3 million kilotons, which is also significantly large, considering that industrialization is still a work in progress in India!
Interestingly enough, the humble little country of Bhutan is trapped between these two giants. Both China and India account for more than a billion people each, all actively polluting the environment for the sake of their own country’s development and other multinational corporation interests. On the other hand, there are only around 700,000 Bhutanese living inside their personal Shangri-La. Despite the huge difference in population, Bhutan takes climate change very seriously.
The dedication of the Bhutanese to this issue is because they are the ones who really feel the effects of global warming. While most of the world sits around debating about climate change, Bhutan bears the brunt of it. The Himalayas are getting warmer, and the newly formed glacial rivers threaten to burst their banks and flood the homes of Bhutan’s entire population. Through absolutely no fault of theirs, Bhutan is already suffering from the effects of the world’s – especially China and India – complacency regarding its environmental policies.
Bhutan – A Brief Introduction
Bhutan is an anomaly among other countries of the world. Firstly, it is a constitutional monarchy. Since the 1950s, the kings of Bhutan have enthusiastically promoted different degrees of democracy in their country.The current monarch empowered the Parliament so much that they now have the ability to impeach a king!
Secondly, they are the only country that measures development on the basis of Gross National Happiness, rather than Gross National Product. Bhutanese officials don’t believe that any kind of economic growth can be justified unless it goes hand-in-hand with the values and culture of the country. Economically, Bhutan has a GNP of only 2 billion dollars. For the sake of comparison, the net worth of Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India, is 18.9 billion dollars!
Despite the scarcity of its resources, Bhutan uses them very effectively. Instead of going for unrestrained industrialization, Bhutan chose to balance economic growth with social development, environmental sustainability and cultural preservation. Education is free for everyone in Bhutan, and so is healthcare! All of these services are provided by the state.
Lastly, and most importantly, Bhutan is a carbon-negative country.
What Does It Mean To Be Carbon Negative?
Bhutan’s carbon footprint is only 2.2 million tons of CO2, but interestingly, Bhutan has dedicated 72% of its land to forest cover. It has so many trees that the country has become a carbon sink for 6 million tons of CO2! Therefore, while no other country has even achieved becoming carbon neutral, Bhutan has managed to be carbon-negative!
This is no coincidence, mind you. Bhutan has intentionally managed to do this. The Constitution of the country has been recently amended to ensure that the forested areas of Bhutan will never fall below 60%. However, they are not just protecting the existing tree cover, the kingdom of Bhutan vigorously encourages afforestation. For example, back in March 2016, the Bhutanese people celebrated the birth of their new prince by planting 108,000 trees! (Source) Bhutan also fiercely protects its own biodiversity, despite its meager economic income, in the following ways:
1. Free Electricity – The Bhutanese government gives free electricity to its farmers to curb the production of carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of firewood. The country produces this electricity through its rivers, of which Bhutan has an abundance. These rivers are a completely clean and renewable source of energy. Bhutan produces so much hydroelectricity that it actually exports energy to its neighboring regions. This is more than just a sound trading policy. In doing so, Bhutan ensures that the surrounding areas don’t produce energy through carbon-intensive methods. Today, this tiny country offsets 6 million tons of CO2 that would have otherwise developed outside its borders. If Bhutan manages to successfully harness even half its hydroelectric potential, it could offset around 50 million tons!
2. Environmental subsidies – Bhutan subsidizes LED lights, which are more environmentally friendly than the alternatives. It is also in partnership with Nissan to encourage the use of electric cars in the country through subsidies.
3. Protected areas – Most of Bhutan’s forest cover falls under protected areas. There are strict rules against poaching, hunting, mining and pollution in these areas. Not only that, but the government also helps the communities who live in those parks to lead dignified and prosperous lives.
4. Biological corridors – The government has created biological corridors that connect these protected areas to each other. The broad diversity of animals are therefore free to roam throughout the country! It helps them adapt better to climate change and naturally boosts their populations. Here we are, trapping animals in cages, while Bhutan essentially builds natural highways for them!
By 2030, Bhutan even promises to reach zero net greenhouse gas emissions and produce zero waste. Go on, smile! I know you want to!
Bhutan is a wonderful example for the rest of the world to follow. For sinking so much of the carbon we so rashly produce, this gorgeous country deserves an award – or at least a global round of applause!